Recycling 101 with GrowNYC

This week, one of my former colleagues Larissa conducted a Recycling 101 brown bag session with members of my office. She works as a Recycling Outreach Coordinator for GrowNYC, the largest and most established environmental organization in NYC.


“GrowNYC is the sustainability resource for New Yorkers: providing free tools and services anyone can use in order to improve our City and environment. Operating farmers markets such as the world-famous Union Square Greenmarket, building new community gardens, teaching young people about the environment, or improving recycling awareness, are all part of GrowNYC’s work.”

We learned some common benefits of recycling, such and the social and environmental benefits, but many of us were shocked at the economic benefits to reducing waste as a society. It costs NYC nearly $400 million to dispose of our trash properly and give it to someone (let’s say another US state) willing to take our garbage. Essentially, we are paying through our taxes for someone to take our trash, and it’s quite expensive.

Credit: 2017 NYC Waste Characterization Study

Approximately 75% of NYC residential waste could be recycled, composted, or diverted from the landfills, but in reality only 17% is being recycled. When we look at the hard numbers,

New Yorkers produce 20 million pounds of residential waste per day, but only 3.4 million pounds are recycled.

Much of the stuff ending up in landfills could be diverted to recycling centers or composted and repurposed for fertilizer, resulting in less tonnage of trash that our city needs to sell to places that will take them, and less of our tax money going to pay for trash disposal.

Larissa gave us some insights on where our paper and plastic/glass/metal recycled products end up in NYC: at Pratt Industries in Staten Island and Sims Municipal Recycling in Brooklyn, respectively. At Pratt, paper gets recycled and (fun fact!) made into things like our pizza boxes and Home Depot packing boxes, and Sims will process hard plastics, glass bottles or jars, and metal items and give them a new change at life as new products. We learned another fun fact that recycling aluminum cans use 95% less energy than mining for raw aluminum, so it’s extremely efficient to recycle our beverage cans (and if you have the patience, collect these cans and recycle them at the collection centers at grocery stores and rack up the $.05 deposits)!

We also had the opportunity to complete a recycling sorting activity and learned about different items that should and shouldn’t be recycled. We were mindblown to find out that any beverages in paper cartons are to be put in the plastic/glass/metals recycle bin and not the paper bin because of the cartons’ waxy coating.

Larissa also shared a variety of resources for recycling throughout NYC.

  • If you have clothing, shoe, and textiles that you no longer need, check here to find a drop-off location near you.
  • If your neighborhood does not have the brown bin Organics Collection Program yet, search up where you can drop off your food scraps for composting.
  • You can check this link for more info on how to enroll in the brown bin program. If you live in an apartment building with 10 or more units, you’ll need the building management’s approval, so rally up other residents in your building and advocate for your building to participate in this program to reduce waste (a big plus for these building managers is the fact that proper recycling and composting reduces rodents and other creepy crawlies and also reduces the risk of fines for not disposing of recycled materials properly–in fact, the Department of Sanitation has a goal of zero waste by 2030.
  • Electronics are full of harmful metals that should not sit in landfills and break down into the ground to seep into our waterways and water supply. Please be sure to check your local electronics store where you can drop off e-waste. There are also plenty of electronic collection programs that will collect your electronics (big and small) and also include apartment buildings.
  • Stop ‘n’ Swap is a free program that allows you to bring clean, reusable, portable items to swap—this is essentially a free thrift store where you can donate your gently used/new items and trade them in for something else!
  • If you have any household chemicals, such as nail polish, pesticides, paint, and more (check their website for more examples) look up the next SAFE Disposal event in your borough so they can properly be disposed.

Lastly, the NYC Department of Sanitation recently did a website refresh and has this awesome feature where you can search up almost any item to see how you can dispose of it correctly.