Among my favorite green networking events in New York is the Green Breakfast Club. While the organization’s main goal is to facilitate a resource exchange between attendees, I also value it as a source for inspiration and learning. The event’s keynote speakers typically share their personal sustainability journey with its twists and turns. I still remember Joe Sibilia’s talk about the making of CSRWire, a serial entrepreneur with a knack for building good companies and giving people opportunities. One of his stories was about two men who succeeded in turning their life around and making a living by selling scrap metal from his lot. They discovered the value of metal recycling.
Last Friday’s speaker shed light on the challenges to create an infrastructure for recycling and better waste management. Ron Gonen, co-founder of Recycle Bank, and now NYC’s first Deputy Commissioner of Recycling shared his personal journey that led him to think about sustainability – and do something about it. He also shared the latest facts and figures about waste management. While New York City has stepped up waste management efforts in the past years, managing the waste of 8 million New York City residents and its 50 million visitors is no easy task.
Consider these facts
– New York City generates 500 million tons of waste every year
– Waste that cannot get recycled gets transported to landfills in Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Ohio
– Organics (food waste) make up the lion share of the annual waste stream – about 40 percent. There is currently no citywide infrastructure in place that allows residents to recycle organics.
– There are 25,000 regular trash bins in New York City, compared to 1,000 recycling containers that separate paper, plastic and regular waste
– Recyclables, such as paper, plastic, metal and glass, have a resell value unless they have been contaminated with organic waste
As the talk was focused on city initiatives, small-scale alternatives were not mentioned, such as dropping off food scraps at green markets or mini composting at home and in the backyard, if you have one. Not a given in a city like New York.
According to Gonen, the City is pursuing multiple initiatives to increase the diversion rate for recycling and reduce the waste that ends up in landfills. Among those initiatives are adding more recycling containers, accepting all plastics for recycling and setting an infrastructure in place that will allow residents to recycle their food waste. On the bright side, “commercial recycling in NYC is very good,” commented Ronen. Businesses understand the economics of waste management.
The price of waste management is less transparent to residents. There is no price tag that pops up when you take out the garbage. The garbage “simply” disappears.
That’s why we have to talk more about trash.
And help the next generation to do things differently. Schools started including recycling and composting into their curriculums, there is need for continued public education about waste management. For example, my daughter’s kindergarten class learned this year about recycling. Her class went to the Brooklyn Botanical Garden to learn about composting.
It looks like we are moving into the right direction. In a recent GreenBiz article, Jennifer Inez Ward writes that according to research from the WorldWatch Institute “the volume of municipal solid waste sold is projected to double by 2015, growing from 1.3 billion tons a year to 2.6 billion tons.”
The question is how fast we can move. It’s a great opportunity for technology companies to push the innovation limits for waste management.
Additional reading: The Epoch Times, Future of Recycling Served Up at Breakfast Club, By Zachary Stieber, August 12, 2012