New Analysis: Return of New York Recycling a Money-Saver for City

Recycling Program Cuts City Costs & Global Warming Pollution
NEW YORK (May 28, 2008) – Recycling will become cheaper and more cost-effective than trash disposal, leading to a big savings in New York City’s overall sanitation expenses, according to a landmark study released today. The study also shows that recycling significantly reduces the city’s global warming pollution – making it an important contributor to the Mayor’s PlaNYC 2030 goal of reducing global warming pollution by 30 percent.
“This study confirms that Mayor Bloomberg’s and the City Council’s decision to restore full recycling in 2004 was not only good for the environment, but also good for the city’s bottom line,” said Eric A. Goldstein, New York urban program director for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), which commissioned the study. “This report also shows that as trash export fees continue to escalate, expanded recycling here will further lower the city’s skyrocketing sanitation costs.”
The study reveals that the cost of recycling and trash disposal are nearly equal in New York City today and that in no more than five to six years, recycling will be a benefit to the city in controlling the mounting expense of landfilling trash.
“Thanks to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s leadership and Commissioner John J. Doherty’s stewardship of environmental matters at the Department of Sanitation, curbside recycling in New York City has become a much more economically viable option in handling our enormous solid waste stream,” said Deputy Sanitation Commissioner Lorenzo N. Cipollina, who worked with the consultants on the report. 
The three-year comprehensive study, one of the first of its kind in the nation, was completed by a nationally recognized consulting firm for solid waste analysis, DSM Environmental Services Inc. (DSM). The data found that after recycling was brought back to New York City, there was only a slight difference in costs between curbside recycling and curbside trash collection. But more importantly, the data shows that as export costs continue to rise and worldwide recycling markets continue to strengthen, the city’s curbside recycling program will become less expensive than trash disposal and will reduce the Department of Sanitation’s (DSNY) overall operating costs within the next five to six years.
Moreover, the study notes that recycling costs will drop even further as more residents participate in the recycling program and collection rates increase, because the price per ton will go down. Currently, sanitation crews collect fewer recyclables per shift than trash, resulting in a marginally higher cost per ton for collecting recyclables than regular trash.   
Additionally, the report found that the overall costs of processing – as opposed to collecting – the city’s recyclables at local recycling plants is currently significantly less than the cost of processing trash, which includes additional transportation costs and high fees for out-of-state incineration and landfilling.
“This thorough and conclusive report confirms what I successfully argued as we saved New York City’s recycling program in 2004 and expanded our efforts to recycling plastic bags, electronic waste and rechargeable batteries since then.  That is, recycling not only helps save our environment and promotes sustainability, but it saves New York’s taxpayers money,” said Michael McMahon, Chairman of the New York City Council’s Committee on Sanitation and Solid Waste Management. “I thank NRDC and our partners at the Department of Sanitation and the City Comptroller’s office for this good news.”
Although primarily an economic analysis, the new report also calculated that recycling significantly lowers the city’s global warming pollution, helping New York to meet its recently stated goal of reducing global warming emissions by 30 percent by 2030. 
According to the report, the existing recycling program reduced the city’s global warming emissions by 500,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2005 alone – the equivalent of taking 338,000 passenger cars off the road each year.  The report also noted that transportation and landfilling are two of the largest contributors to global warming pollution.
Ted Siegler and Natalie Starr, co-authors of the report, credited Lorenzo Cipollina, Deputy Commissioner of Financial Management and Administration, and his staff at DSNY for their full cooperation and for the time and effort they devoted to this effort.  Siegler stated that given the complexities of DSNY’s budget, DSM would not have been able to conduct the detailed analysis required without DSNY’s cooperation.
“Recycling solves more than just our trash problem – it combats global warming, saves money and recovers valuable materials that would otherwise have to be mined, logged or drilled,” said Mark Izeman, Senior Attorney at NRDC, who coordinated the study. “The jury is no longer out on the economic benefits of recycling in Gotham – this report proves once and for all that recycling is the smart choice for New York.”
“Recycling is an integral part of the Mayor’s Comprehensive Solid Waste Management Plan adopted in 2006, which plays an important role in helping us reach the greenhouse gas reduction goals laid out in PlaNYC,” said Rohit Aggarwala, head of the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability and Long-Term Planning. “Implementation of the Mayor’s plan will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by an estimated 192,000 metric tons annually.”
The report is the result of an unusual cooperative effort between DSM, DSNY, the New York City Economic Development Corporation and NRDC.  The independent report was commissioned by NRDC to address some lingering questions over the cost-effectiveness of recycling in the wake of the city’s 2004 decision to restore the program citywide.
The complete report is available online at:
The authors and NRDC thank the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation and the Overbrook Foundation for their financial support of this report.