Marist survey shows New Yorkers confused by city recycling rules

NRDC Report Says Recycling, While Popular, is Hampered by City's Weak Public Education Efforts

NEW YORK (August 7, 2001) - Most New Yorkers are confused about which items should be recycled and which should not, according to a new Marist survey released today by NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council). This misunderstanding is hampering the program's effectiveness and wasting money, NRDC maintains.

NRDC's report, "New York City's Failing Public Education Campaign for Recycling," which is based on the Marist survey, says the city has failed to make the recycling program understood since the recycling law was passed in 1989. It recommends that the City scrap its current ad campaign with animated cartoon characters and instead focus on ads teaching New Yorkers the specific recycling collection rules. It also recommends that the City distribute its recycling poster to all New Yorkers annually and take other steps to boost public familiarity with the program's details.

"New Yorkers strongly support recycling, but are not getting the information they need to participate fully," said Eric A. Goldstein, coauthor of the report along with Megan Delany, an NRDC research associate.

In the public opinion survey, undertaken for NRDC by the Marist Institute for Public Opinion during the week of June 12-19, 2001, a majority of the 918 New York City residents questioned were unable to correctly identify 8 of 12 household items as either recyclable or non-recyclable under the City's recycling program. The 12 items included recyclable trash such as aerosol cans, envelopes with windows, and wire hangers, as well as items not recycled in New York City's program such as deli and salad bar containers, plastic bags and Styrofoam products.

The survey also found:

  • Confusion persists over what should be recycled under the City's program, with significant numbers of residents incorrectly identifying six items that are recyclable. For example, only 44 percent knew envelopes with windows are recyclable.

  • All six of the items in the Marist survey that should not be placed out for recycling collections were incorrectly identified by a majority of New Yorkers questioned. (Only 40 percent knew plastic bags are not recyclable.)

  • Only three of the 918 New Yorkers polled in the Marist survey correctly identified all 12 items as either recyclables or non-recyclables as defined by the City.

Significantly, the Marist survey revealed that 59 percent of New Yorkers said the City is doing a "fair" or "poor" job of educating residents about the specifics of the Sanitation Department's recycling program, while only 41 percent thought the City's efforts were "good" or "excellent."

"New Yorkers understand that they need better information to improve their compliance with the recycling program," said Megan Delany, coauthor of the report.

Among the recommendations offered by NRDC are to scrap the existing television ads and concentrate instead on providing basic information on the specifics of what should and what should not be placed out for recycling collection. The report also recommends annual distribution to every city household of the DOS recycling poster, which lists specific items and identifies them for recycling; new themes for recycling ads; and stepped up recycling education efforts in apartment houses, Housing Authority buildings and the City's 1100 public schools.

"The results of this survey should not be misinterpreted as meaning that New Yorkers do not support recycling, or that the City's program as a whole is failing," said Eric A. Goldstein. The report's coauthors acknowledge the widespread public support for recycling in New York and the advances that have been made in boosting recycling and making the City's program more cost-effective over the past decade. But the report concludes: "Expanded recycling means little if citizens do not have the basic information they need to participate effectively in the program."

The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, non-profit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has more than 500,000 members nationwide, served from offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco.