Kader Aribou, manager of the Little Atlas café on West 4th Street, said his establishment hasn’t recycled anything in the year it has been open, yet the city has only fined the café once, with a $100 ticket. The fine was for not recycling cardboard, but Aribou found the notice of violation confusing because it didn’t mention recycling specifically. “They said there are days when you need to put certain things out,” Aribou said. “But it didn’t say I had to recycle.”
New York City law says all residents, schools, institutions, agencies, and commercial businesses must recycle. But some question how well the New York City Department of Sanitation enforces this law.
In 2006, the department’s 100 enforcement officials issued 48,729 notices of violation for recyclables mixed with normal garbage and 46,644 notices for non-recyclables in recycling containers. Violation notices usually start with a $25 fine and the amount increases with each consecutive violation. Sanitation officers are limited to fining visible infractions; they are unable to sort through any trash tied up in black garbage bags.
“The department issues notices of violation to residences and businesses alike if they are found to be in violation,” said department spokesman Matthew Lipani via email. “The department also does outreach to business owners and residents to inform them of their responsibilities.” Lipani refused multiple requests to elaborate on this statement with specific details.
As of February 2004 New York’s recycling rate, or percentage of waste recycled, was 29.9 percent, compared to 39 percent for Los Angeles’ 3.6 million residents, 48 percent for San Francisco’s 776,733 residents, 38 percent for Seattle’s 563,374 people and 22 percent for Chicago’s 2.9 million people, according to the department website.
But some in New York City, like Aribou, don’t see much enforcement. Sean Nievez, production manager for New York University’s Copy Central on East 12th Street, said his establishment is required by his superiors to recycle, but he is not aware of any city enforcement. New York University spokesman Jonah Scheib said the school has no specific recycling policy, but follows city laws. Scheib said the university has been ticketed by the city on occasion, like when the private hauler fails to pick up the trash. But he was not aware of any notices of violation issued to any university establishment by the city for neglecting to recycle.
“I think the University as a whole likes to recycle,” Nievez said. “We make it a point to recycle, but we’ve never had a city official come in and check.”
Martin Sheel, manager and owner of Josie Wood’s pub on Waverly Place, said he has never received a notice of violation or information from the city on recycling, and has never known any other bar owner who has either. “There’s other stuff they bust your chops on,” Sheel said.
Sheel sorts his bottles, cardboard and other recycles anyway, and puts them out on the right days. But he sees the waste collection company toss all the items in one truck. Sheel said he wonders if his efforts to recycle are in vain.
Private companies like Waste Management and Allied pick up business waste and recycling and the city handles residential and municipal waste and recycling, Lipani said.
The Department of Sanitation says on its website that some companies gather recyclables with trash in the same truck and claim to sort out the recyclables later. When asked whether the city sorted out recyclables from the trash, the Department of Sanitation spokesperson declined to comment.
Recycling in New York is also limited by a lack of recycling bins in public spaces. The Department of Sanitation operated a pilot program this spring that placed bins in some public spaces. According to the department website, the pilot program’s results led city officials to conclude that public space recycling bins for newspapers and paper work well, but bins for bottles and cans attracted too much non-recyclable trash. A successful public space recycling program would require a high level of monitoring and strategic placement of bins in crowded business areas, the program managers found.