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SCIENCE-FOR-THE-PEOPLE  June 2006

SCIENCE-FOR-THE-PEOPLE June 2006

Subject:

Satya Interview with (Brooklyn Green) Cathryn Swan and Christina Salvi

From:

Mitchel Cohen <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Science for the People Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Fri, 2 Jun 2006 17:45:39 -0400

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (194 lines)

http://www.satyamag.com/may06/recycle.html

Recycle This!
The Satya Interview with Cathryn Swan and Christina J. Salvi


In 2002, when NYC suspended the recycling of 
plastics and glass, concerned residents responded 
with Recycle This! This grassroots activist group 
has been organizing creative events and actions 
to promote dialogue about trash and recycling, 
but also about reusing, reducing and rethinking 
our consumption patterns. Recycle This! kicked 
off in 2002 with their Recycle In, when they 
surrounded City Hall with “A Billion Bottles for 
Bloomberg.” The event featured art from collected 
bottles and cans and a teach-in in opposition to 
the cutbacks in recycling. While recycling of 
plastics and glass has resumed, Recycle This! 
continues to be active in creating a more 
sustainable NYC. They host the Freecycle NYC 
listserve, organize FreeMeets, electronic recycling events and much more.

Sangamithra Iyer had a chance to ask Recycle 
This! organizers Cathryn Swan and Christina J. 
Salvi about rethinking recycling in NYC.

When Mayor Bloomberg announced the suspension of 
plastic and glass recycling, what were your initial reactions?
Cathryn Swan: I was astounded. Recycling seemed a 
relatively ‘small’ effort within NYC to reduce 
our garbage and a given we could count on. For 
months, I collected plastic and wine bottles and 
couldn’t quite accept the idea of throwing them 
out as trash. Mayor Bloomberg’s reasoning that 
cutting recycling was an economic decision was 
flawed and I wanted to challenge it immediately, as did others.

Christina J. Salvi: I felt it was not enough to 
justify it as an economic necessity and that if 
the recycling program wasn’t working, the city 
should communicate with people about how to fix 
it. I thought the city was taking the wrong 
approach by making it seem as if recycling was 
not economically feasible, environmentally 
responsible or morally reasonable. And all this 
without a push for New Yorkers to reduce their waste was just too much.

It was intended to cut costs and assess the 
effectiveness of NYC’s recycling. What in reality 
was the impact of these suspensions?
CJS: To begin with, the cost of recycling was 
artificially inflated when presented to Mayor 
Bloomberg, who cut back the program seemingly 
unaware that jobs cut (i.e. “savings”) from 
recycling routes would have to be replaced by 
additional garbage trucks. Cutting glass and 
plastic recycling from the curbside program was 
supposed to save some $40 million­a mere one 
percent of the budget deficit. In reality, 
because cutting back on recycling increased the 
amount of “garbage,” the city incurred a cost 
increase with garbage collection. We barely saved 
any money, but undid a decade of education 
efforts to get New Yorkers to recycle in the 
first place. People were so confused that 
recycling dropped overall and the loss of 
recycled paper by some 12 percent meant an 
additional loss of revenue for the city. The 
confusion created by the cuts has persisted to 
this day­I do commercial recycling consulting and 
nearly every day I encounter people who think the 
city has stopped recycling altogether­years after 
recycling has returned completely.
I will say that one positive impact was the city 
recognizing that a long-term recycling contract 
was needed to protect the city from the volatile 
market. Now that we’re entering a 20-year 
contract for our curbside recyclables, I hope to 
see a stronger effort from the city to educate 
New Yorkers about the importance of waste prevention and recycling.

What do you think all New Yorkers should know about their waste?
CS: First, New Yorkers should try to grasp an 
understanding of what 13,000 tons of residential 
waste leaving our city every day to go through 
other towns and cities to landfills in mostly 
poor communities means and might look like. Also, 
a major thing is that the majority of Manhattan’s 
residential waste goes to Newark, NJ, where it is 
incinerated. That is a little known fact. While 
we ban incineration in NYC, we send a large 
amount of trash to be incinerated in a poor community in New Jersey!

I would also like to emphasize the idea that 
garbage is not something dirty. It’s a 
product/byproduct of our consumption habits. By 
thinking it’s something dirty, we can distance 
ourselves from it. A lot of the garbage we throw 
out, we don’t have much choice about because it’s 
part of packaging, etc., and yet some we do have 
a choice about. If we’re conscious about our 
day-to-day practices, we’ll figure out ways to 
make change. If we all brought our own cups to 
get our tea and coffee in the coffee shop, 
imagine what a difference that would make! Also, 
coffee shops that don’t have ‘to stay’ china or 
glasses should be asked to make this commitment. 
There’s more, but the problem is that it’s not 
part of our daily thinking right now­if we can 
make it so, things can change, in incremental 
amounts, which hopefully will snowball in time to making big changes.

CJS: First, that everything New Yorkers throw 
away at home and at work gets trucked through 
poor communities and dumped in other poor 
communities. It’s imperative that we reduce the 
amount of waste we produce and recognize that 
putting out your recycling bin each week is not 
the end of what you can do to be a good 
environmental citizen. There’s waste involved in 
the production and shipping of the things we 
consume, and there’s also no guarantee that our 
waste will actually be recycled. For example, 
glass is often used as landfill cover and 
recyclable plastic is often dumped because 
there’s just so much of it clogging the market. 
People need to choose sustainably-produced, 
minimally packaged and recyclable materials from the beginning.

What is the goal of Recycle This!?
CS: Recycle This! has many goals but our primary 
one is to come up with creative ways to put a 
spotlight on the ideas of reducing, reusing, 
recycling and also to freecycle. When we first 
started Recycle This!, our goal was to bring back 
recycling of plastics and glass which had been 
suspended. As we went along, we became less about 
“rah! rah! recycling” and more about ‘how do we 
create a sustainable NYC? What kind of city do we 
want to live in?’ We try to fill what we think is 
a void in this area and look for activities and 
events that serve as ‘light bulb’ moments and spark dialogue and ideas.

What are some things NYC could do to make recycling greater and greener?
CS: Having on-street, public space (in subways, 
parks, etc.) recycling; adopting zero waste 
measures; having reuse centers in each borough; 
Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR); an 
expanded recycling program; electronics 
recycling; a composting program; creating markets 
for recycled materials; and having a ‘reduction 
of trash’ mentality, are a few implementable ideas.

CJS: As a city and a citizenry, we need to demand 
that producers take responsibility for the 
products they sell in NYC, from expanding the 
bottle bill to enacting the proposed extended 
producer responsibility legislation. But again, 
it’s important to not see recycling as the be-all 
and end-all. To make NYC truly green we need to 
support the reuse sector­businesses like Build It 
Green! and Per Scholas­and reduce the amount of waste we have to dispose of.

What are some of your upcoming projects?
CS: Recycle This! is involved in operating the 
temporary Freecycle NYC Reuse Center right now 
(ends mid-May) and we hope some permanent centers 
will be put into place in the future­a great way 
to reduce and reuse some of the materials that 
currently end up in our landfills. We run the 
Freecycle New York City program and listserve. We 
are in the midst of updating our website to have 
more relevant information about where NYC’s trash 
goes and to help groups organizing around this 
issue outside of NYC. We will also include 
information on how to recycle at your business, 
as a lot of people write to us about this. We’d 
like to work with public schools to do a more 
effective job of recycling, reducing and reusing 
and educating children about this at a young age! 
We will continue showing Brooklyn-based writer 
and director Heather Rogers’ great film Gone 
Tomorrow: The Hidden Life of Garbage which we’ve 
taken on a five borough tour and will work with 
Heather to promote her recently released book of 
the same name. We continue to raise the issue of 
electronics recycling and organize electronics 
recycling events to keep these toxic materials 
out of the landfill. We’d like to put together a 
‘guide’ to a lot of these issues.

To learn more or get involved visit www.RecycleThisNYC.org.

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