Independent Recycling Office for NYC

It seems the city council is close to approving the final waste management plan for NYC. Within the NY Times article, there is an interesting idea of carving out waste reduction and recycling from the Department of Sanitation.

In the past, the sanitation department has been a reluctant steward of the program, arguing so effectively against it that in 2002 the mayor suspended the pickup of glass jars and bottles, and the following year reduced recycling collection to a bimonthly schedule.

The full recycling program was restored in 2004, but sanitation officials still grumbled that it costs far more to have a crew picking up recyclables than to simply haul everything to a landfill.

Just pathetic! I knew the Sanitation Department was narrowmindedly focused on moving trash, but I did not realize that they would actively work against programs that might actually REDUCE the amount they had to collect! This is where a new independent office would exactly help.

From the NY Times article it seems specifics are getting ironed out right now:

Proponents of an independent recycling office said it was essential for the city in the long run to reduce the amount of trash that is ultimately sent to out-of-state landfills.

"We need to reduce our waste exports," said Jean Halloran, director of food and sustainability issues at Consumers Union, which is part of the Zero Waste citizens campaign for reduction of the waste produced in the city. "Those waste exports are costing the city $300 million a year, and those costs are only going to go up," she said.

Mr. McMahon said there was general agreement to move oversight of the recycling program from the Department of Sanitation to the Council on the Environment, which advises the mayor on environmental policy. The amount of staff and a budget for the new office are still under discussion.

If this moves over to CENYC, the folks that also handle the greenmarket system and many other good environmental programs I hope they give them the right type of staff and power to make a dent in the $300 million export bill (which will only increase with energy prices), not to mention the improved environment in NYC and beyond.

Reducing unnecessary waste has a cascade effect on many other issues including the unnecessary production and transportation of those goods in the first place!

This mindset is not so different from attitudes that you see in related realms. I just saw Who Killed the Electric Car this weekend, and the filmmaker suggests that part of the reason it was killed was about the bottom line. It would have been hard and inconvenient and expensive for both the car companies and the California Air Resources Board to implement the Zero Emissions Mandate that was passed in CA after the first electric cars started coming out. Instead of reorganizing to comply with the mandate, the car companies, oil companies, and the CARB (among others) banned together to simply kill the mandate altogether. In order to make sure the mandate stayed dead, they refused to let people renew the leases on the cars.

In many ways this doesn't seem so different from what the dept of sanitation is doing.

Reminds me of how the Department of Transportation is all about moving as many cars as possible, and the bike programs and so on are marginalized and ignored. Perhaps there should be a Department of Bicycles. The argument against splitting those sorts of things, though, is that it would promote interdepartamental conflict, and the new departments would be quite small and weak. I really don't know enough about the city government to say which way is better.
I think an independent voice and structure is necessary when it becomes too small of a priority in the grand scheme of things. At least an independent body would have a direct voice to the Mayor's Office that doesn't get interupted by the Agency's Commissioner...let them compete and see who wins what resources.

Right now while it would be great to have a fully integrated Dept of Transportation that effectively balanced cars, mass transit, pedestrians and cyclists it seems like the DOT is really the department of moving automobiles through the city. And the Dept of Sanitation is really the department of moving trash around and out of the city...

The Sanitation Department is committed to recycling, and the DOT to biking only to the degree that those agencies are directed to be so by the Mayor. If we want the City to reorient its priorities, it's to the elected officials we have to address our concerns.
I agree that if the Mayor orders them to do something, they would snap to attention and get it done. However, there is a great deal of everyday discretion that agency commissioners and deputy commissioners have over how to deploy their resources.

I feel the evidence of the city council setting up an independent recycling in the CENYC is proof that some elected officials did not believe that the current DOS would follow their directives to increase recycling.

It's a two way street. The Mayor should give strong direction to agency commissioners. At the same time, I would hope that agency commissioners are not just doers, but also thinkers, who put forth innovative ideas to the mayor, the city council and challenge their own staff to excel in all their responsibilities. That's what real leaders do.

According to Treehugger, this is actually happening, along with a pretty good plan to increase recycling in NYC from 16% to about 25% of the city's waste.

Good news?