What The Surprising Results From 3,550 Site Visits Reveal About Businesses And Recycling

Oct 2016

This blog post is from Great Forest sustainability research intern Kathleen Emerson, a recent graduate from Hunter College holding a B.A. in Environmental Studies: Policy and Management. She is a zero waste enthusiast who is actively mindful of reducing consumption and properly handling waste. She is passionate about sustainability and waste management and wants to continue work in these fields. 

Pictured left to right: Brianne Hart, Nick Van Eyck, Kathleen Emerson, Michelle Chung, Angela D'Aurizio, and Pedro Suarez.
Pictured left to right: Brianne Hart, Nick Van Eyck, Kathleen Emerson, Michelle Chung, Angela D’Aurizio, and Pedro Suarez.

Hotels, manufacturers, wholesalers, clothing retailers, restaurants, office buildings, arenas, corner stores, pharmacies, gyms — what do these places all have in common?

This is a short list of the various types of commercial establishments covered by New York City’s updated business recycling rules, which went into effect August 1st.  A number of these businesses are also affected by the new organics law, which went into effect July 19. This list also represents what may have been all the different types of businesses I visited within a single day this summer, as a Commercial Programs Outreach Intern for New York City’s Department of Sanitation (DSNY).

To help inform businesses of NYC’s updated recycling rules and new organics laws, the  DSNY’s Commercial Program team, led by Senior Manager Brett Mons, put five enthusiastic interns, including myself, into the giant field of New York City to conduct outreach by educating businesses about the laws through in-person site-visits across all five boroughs.

Over three months this summer, I conducted 710 site visits. In total, the team, which included interns Michelle Chung, Nadira Rahman, Brianne Hart, and Angela D’Aurizio, along with Community Coordinators, Pedro Suarez and Nick Van Eyck, visited approximately 3,550 commercial sites.

During these site visits, not only did we educate businesses about the details of the recycling and organics laws, but we also surveyed current waste management practices within buildings and tenant spaces.

In our assessment of 3,550 commercial establishments, we found that 85% of businesses (as of August 19th) were currently not complying with the recycling law!

While this represents no large fraction of the estimated 400,000 individual businesses located throughout the City, it signifies what seems to be the general recycling trends of businesses.

According to the DSNY’s current estimates (not including construction and demolition waste), the City’s businesses generate over 9,000 tons of waste every day.  Of this daily waste, only 26% is currently being recycled.

With 54% of the waste stream characterized as recyclables and 35% of the stream as organics, the updated business recycling and new organics laws has the potential to divert 89% of the commercial waste stream, which means that only 11% actually needs to be sent to the landfill.

This is no small task, but through the continual hard work and outreach conducted by DSNY, as well as the strong efforts put forth by sustainability consulting companies like Great Forest, who work with businesses to help increase recycling and ensure compliance with the City’s new laws, we are getting closer and striving step-by-step to reach the Mayor’s goal of reducing commercial waste disposal by 90% by 2030. As the new Sustainability Research Intern at Great Forest, I am thrilled to continue being part of the endeavors pursuing this goal and I look forward to seeing the progress that comes.

Q&A On New Waste And Recycling Rules – What Should Businesses Do? – Richard Cook, Great Forest’s NYC team leader, answers some FAQs on the new rules and lays out what you should do to be compliance and protected from fines.

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