New York Times - 14 Jan 03

Prof. Robert B. Laughlin
Department of Physics
Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305
(Copied 29 Oct 09)

City to Resume Recycling of Plastics

Published: Tuesday, January 14, 2003

New York City is poised to resume recycling plastic this summer and save a significant amount of money thanks to a New Jersey company's bid to pay the city for its crumpled water bottles and deli containers, city officials said yesterday.

The Bloomberg administration suspended the recycling of glass and plastic last July, arguing that the program cost too much money -- and yielded too little environmental benefit -- to justify its existence in the current fiscal crisis.

But under a compromise reached between the administration and the City Council, the city will resume its plastic-recycling program this July and its glass-recycling program in July 2004.

The sanitation commissioner, John J. Doherty, said at a City Council hearing yesterday that the city is on target to meet the July deadline for restarting plastic recycling. He added that the city stands to save a significant amount of money compared with the previous program.

Mr. Doherty said the city hopes to sign a contract in the next two months with a small New Jersey recycling company, Hugo Neu Schnitzer East, that has offered to pay the city $5.15 per ton for plastic and metal garbage, instead of charging for the service. Other, bigger garbage firms, he said, wanted to charge the city more that $67 a ton for removing plastic and metal refuse.

"It's very encouraging," Mr. Doherty said of the bid. If the contract goes through, he noted, the city would save more than $70 a ton on plastic recycling. Over all, however, it would still cost the city money: Mr. Doherty said the money the city would get from Hugo Neu Schnitzer East would not be enough to offset the high cost of collecting the plastic. Still, he described the bid as the best offer the city has had since it passed a law requiring recycling in 1989.

City officials said they were confronting a harsh reality when they suspended glass and plastic recycling: they were spending tens of millions of dollars a year for a program that still wound up putting a great deal of refuse into landfills.

But Comptroller William C. Thompson Jr. released a report in December suggesting that the city was not saving as much money by suspending recycling as it had hoped. The report said that since suspending recycling, the Sanitation Department had reduced its garbage-collection runs by less than 2 percent.

The new contract will not earn the city much money. The city collects a little over 100,000 tons of metal and plastic a year, so at $5.15 a ton it would stand to make a little over half a million dollars. The real savings would be that the city would no longer have to pay firms to remove its recyclables. And by taking plastic out of the regular trash collection, the city would no longer have to pay the high price of exporting it, one truck at a time, to out-of-state landfills.

Councilman Michael E. McMahon, a Staten Island Democrat who is chairman of the Council's Sanitation Committee, said the proposal was a win-win deal. "You've got good news for the environment and good news for the economy," he said.

Mark A. Izeman, a lawyer at the Natural Resources Defense Council, a conservation group, said, "In tight budgetary times, it makes perfect sense for the city to seize opportunities like this to begin lowering New York's astronomical waste disposal costs."