New York City's bold plan to end garbage

garbage piles nyc

In a city famous for giant, steaming piles of trash, the new plan is to have nearly none at all.

New York City mayor Bill de Blasio announced Wednesday that by 2030 New York won't send any of its garbage to out-of-state landfills. Instead, it will be recycled, composted, or eliminated from the waste stream altogether.

"The whole notion of a society based on constantly increasing waste and putting it on a train or a barge sending it someplace else and putting it in the ground is outrageous," de Blasio said at a press conference on Earth Day. "And it's outdated, and we're not going to be a part of it."

So the city will expand its residential recycling program -- which currently only captures about 15% of the stuff New Yorkers throw out. Key to that plan is letting residents use one bin to recycle all their glass, plastic metal and paper -- a practice common in many other cities.

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New York will also expand its composting program from the current 100,000 households to every home in the city by 2018. Other efforts will be made to increase recycling and composting in the schools and for businesses, which use private contractors to dispose of their trash.

The city will also work to reduce the amount of things sold that cannot be recycled or composted -- like its recent ban on foam food containers and packing material. Plastic shopping bags could be next -- de Blasio said he's working with the city council on a plan to curtail their use.

Tax incentives could be used to encourage compliance -- like giving tax breaks to homeowners who take part. Details on paying for the plan haven't been finalized, but the city could use some of the $350 million a year it currently spends exporting its trash, the mayor said.

Under the plan, zero trash would be sent to out-of-state landfills and commercial waste would be reduced by 90%.

He agreed the plan is ambitious in a city where each resident generates 15 pounds of trash per week.

"I don't blame anyone for being cynical -- I represent 8.5 million jaded people," said the mayor, responding to a question from a skeptical reporter. "But we're 100% committed to achieving these goals."

Time Lapse: NYC low-wage worker protest
Time Lapse: NYC low-wage worker protest

San Francisco announced a similar plan back in the early 2000s, and that city now recycles around 80% of its trash, said Eric Goldstein, an attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

"This should be looked at as inspirational," Goldstein said of New York's target. "The objective is to get as close to zero as possible."

The plan was announced as part of a broader push at City Hall to combine environmental initiatives with efforts to reduce income inequality, including a call for a higher minimum wage and better transit access for all New York residents. Known as OneNYC, it builds upon former mayor Michael Bloomberg's PlanNYC, a widely respected effort to cut greenhouse gases and prepare for climate change.

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