Sustainability and Community column – the scoop on recycling in the ‘hood

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When most of us consume something, we hardly think twice when we dispose of the container it came in.

Even when we recycle glass or plastic bottles or aluminum cans, there’s no need to worry about where it goes once it’s out of our sight. Right?

But recycling actually uses a lot of energy. First, the city has to dispatch trucks to pick up all our recyclables. Then, back at the collection center, glass has to be separated from aluminum and plastic. The real work, however, begins when these materials are cleaned and broken down for reprocessing.

Ultimately, recycling does reduce landfill size. But it also requires more trucks (and thus, more oil) for curbside pick-up and more energy for reprocessing materials.

Other problems are that some people aren’t educated about, are what materials can and cannot be recycled: Check out the NYCWasteLess website for info on packaging symbols. And furthermore, not everyone recycles (you know who you are!).

One solution to this problem that is often overlooked is a dropoff center where people can trade in empty bottles and cans for five or ten cents each. This system motivates people to recycle because, as we all know, a monetary reward makes us more likely to do something. And the bottles or cans get reused by the beverage distributor – so they don’t use energy in reprocessing.

At the dropoff center at the corner of Bedford and Monroe, people trade in recyclables for cash, and the empty containers get bought back by the beverage companies when they leave beer packs for distribution to the surrounding bodegas.

“It’s about $1.20 a case here,” said Lenny, who regularly brings bags of cans and bottles to the center. “That’s better than some places, they wanna give you a dollar a case.”

Another local, Clarence, has been bringing bags to exchange for about three months: “Yesterday I made $45,” he said. “Saw that money could be made, and started bringing stuff from the curb here. Now some people give us bags.”

“We try to be as sterile as we can,” explained Lenny, showing the gloves he was wearing to protect himself from germs.

Tony, the distribution center manager, explained that three trucks come to the center every day to unload supplies and buy the empty bottles. “I pay them out of my pocket,” he said, referring to people like Clarence and Lenny who regularly bring bags of recyclables to the drop-off center.

There are many ways that each of us can do our part to reduce the amount of waste we send to landfills. Simply looking up the recycling codes listed on the NYCWasteLess website is a great way to educate yourself and your family about what to separate for recycling.

Also, buying things made with less packaging and constantly being mindful of our consumption habits are things that seem small. But if we all do it, it has a great effect on our community and our environment.

Recycling is a great way to reduce waste and, though it’s not a perfect solution, if we all do it to the best of our abilities, we are helping to protect natural resources like land, water, and energy.

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