In the Field: Testifying about Recycling and Composting in NYC Public Housing

Baruch Composting 2 Serving over 400,000 New Yorkers, the NYC Housing Authority (NYCHA) public housing is the largest such system in the country, but the average recycling rate at the buildings is far less than their target of 15%. Increasing waste diversion and recycling at each of these housing developments could have a tremendous and positive impact, were it implemented effectively.

Last week I testified before the New York City Council’s Committee on Public Housing and the Committee on Sanitation and Solid Waste Management regarding waste diversion and recycling and composting practices at NYCHA Housing Developments. I began by stating that many recycling and composting programs in multi-family housing developments across the country have been successful. Aside from improving the quality of life for the residents of these developments, the waste diverted from landfills benefits both the environment and a city’s budget. NYC currently spends $300 million a year on exporting waste to landfills, and that cost is anticipated to rise significantly in the next decade. Increasing recycling is a great way to free up more resources, and steer them toward the many other needs of NYCHA’s residents.

Data collection from these efforts is crucial in terms of evaluating what approaches work best, and to extrapolate the return on the investment in waste recovery bins, bags, and other equipment, as well as outreach and engagement. I encouraged the council to track this data, and relay the costs of the major trash contaminants to manufacturers of unrecyclable packaging and other items, expressing their concern at having to bear the costs of landfilling items that are not designed with recycling or composting in mind.

It was especially great to hear from NYCHA community members with tales of their own successes and hardships. Most notable was Sarah Martin, the President of the Grant Houses Residents’ Association and Co-Chair of the grassroots group Morningside Heights/West Harlem Sanitation Coalition. She explained that the key aspect to success was education and engagement, an element that earlier, failed attempts at recycling had lacked. The Coalition knocked on each door and hosted workshops on each floor in the nine buildings of the Grant Houses. They also hired residents to monitor the bins and aid other residents in their recycling efforts.

Many obstacles remain concerning implementing widespread recycling programs at each of the 334 buildings controlled by NYCHA, but we hope that this hearing, and the stories and recommendations shared, will help to spur the devotion of more resources and effort toward increasing resource recovery at New York City’s public housing.