For as wonderfully progressive as New York City can be (New York Post comment sections not included), its inhabitants are still painfully clueless when it comes to dealing with our own garbage. DNAinfo has pointed out that recycling rates have dropped significantly over the past five years, with just 15 percent of waste today being diverted from landfills via recycling. That’s well below the national recycling rate of 34.1 percent, and only a quarter of Portland, Oregon’s 60 percent (which would make sense if real Portlanders are anything like their fictionalized, eco-conscious stereotypes on Portlandia). San Francisco, however, puts everyone to shame. In 2009, San Franciscans reached a 77 percent recycling rate, which makes our recycling accomplishments look like a single, shitty sock puppet with a missing button-eye.
Being bad at recycling is an expensive habit to keep. New York City exports its garbage to landfills outside of the city, and 3.2 million tons of solid waste a year at that. In dollars, DNAinfo reports that process costs $300 million, but unaccounted-for externalized costs are more difficult to measure. Communities burdened by pollution from inefficient waste transfer stations, and the combustion of the hundreds of trucks carrying waste to them daily, can deal with asthma hospitalization rates for children under four nearly twice as much as communities without these transfer stations. It’s for this reason that areas of North Brooklyn, Queens and the South Bronx are fighting for equitable distribution of New York City’s weighty garbage burden, as their waste transfer stations deal with 70 percent of New Yorkers’ trash.
According to DNAinfo, the relapse is rooted in a series of budget cuts that suspended glass, metal and plastic recycling in 2002. The numbers haven’t recovered since, which is perhaps why Mayor Bloomberg has made an ambitious pledge to divert twice as much NYC garbage from landfills by 2017. Precisely how that feat will be accomplished is still being determined.
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