By NYLESA member Stef Stevens

Late January, we joined a tour organized by NYLESA’s own tour-leader to the SIMS waste recycling facility in Brooklyn.

We were all amazed to find out how everything worked. The facility, opened in 2013, is a state of the art recycling plant that receives the contents of all the residential recycling bins of the entire city of New York. Through an ingenious separation process which uses sifters, filters, magnets, cameras and airflow, recyclables are sorted into separated flows of different types of plastic, metals and glass. At the end of the separation process each material is pressed into large blocks. These blocks are then transported to specialized factories as a source material for production processes or for further recycling.

Considering that every bottle, can, plastic tray or milk carton and such thrown somewhere in the city into a recycling bin ends up at this facility, the initially huge looking plant seems however rather disappointing in size for such a metropolis as New York.

This visit motivated me to go online and look up some data on waste generation and recycling percentages in New York City. Regarding the generation of waste, this city amazes me in a negative sense. The convenience searching behavior has gone so far in this city that very few people think twice when ordering another single use cup, food-container or utensil even when they drink or eat at the establishment.

It is estimated that New York City generates a mind boggling 11,000 metric tons of domestic and institutional waste and 13,000 tons of commercial waste per day. In New York City only 17% of household waste is recycled and most of the remaining waste is trucked out to landfills far outside the city (including other states like PA, OH & VA) at considerable cost (approximately 300 million USD annually) and environmental impact. The potential for recycling is of course much, much higher than the 17% and much can be gained by raising this percentage.

There are a number of promising initiatives in the city to raise awareness and encourage people to recycle, but New Yorkers are creatures of habit and behavioral changes tend to take a long time. Doing a tour of the waste recycling facility in Brooklyn is an excellent way to make people aware of the scale of the waste problem in the city and to initiate behavioral change; I can totally recommend a visit. On the ‘Education’ part of the SIMS website you can find information opening hours and tours.