The very first thing I decided to do as part of my new commitment to sustainability was to be a better recycler. I decided to redouble my efforts by simply recycling more. In fact, I decided to recycle everything—so long as it fell roughly into the categories of paper, plastic or metal.
What I did not know at at first is that following New York City’s recycling program is not simple. (For a detailed description of what can and cannot be recycled check out the Department of Sanitation's website or the Natural Resources Defense Council for surprising recycling restrictions.)
A big surprise for me were the restrictions for screw on bottle tops. The plastic bottle tops cannot be recycled, but metal ones can. Another surprise was that aluminum foil cannot be recycled if it has been used for cooking, but if it wasn't, it can be. Aerosol cans can be recycled, but plastic deli containers and plastic bags are not recyclable. Paper with staples in it can be recycled, but notebooks with spiral binding cannot be recycled.
The bottom line to recycling smartly and correctly is to take a minute and double check the sanitation website. Even if you are a seasoned pro, the restrictions get tricky and you may be surprised to find that your heartfelt recycling efforts are actually hurting the environment, if done improperly.
For at least two weeks, I was personally responsible for a flotilla of deli containers being sent off to be recycled. And there I was, believing I was so green that my heart was sprouting leaves, when, in fact, some poor soul employed by the New York City Department of Sanitation was having to fish them all out, by hand.
Yes, that’s right, by hand. Because in our era of iPads and texting and pinging and levitating cars (okay, fine, we don’t have those yet)—a fair amount of our recycling is done by hand.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that in a city of 8 million people, I am probably not the only one who thinks you can recycle deli containers. You do the math. It is truly important to recycle correctly, because every piece trash that is disposed of properly helps.
But wait! Don’t go throwing everything away that’s not on the recycle list. Here, in Park Slope, there’s another option. The Park Slope Food Coop has generously stepped up to help the neighborhood handle some of those plastic rejects. Including, yes, my plastic deli containers.
On the second Saturday, third Thursday and last Sunday of every month, the Coop collects—from members as well as non-members—additional plastics, including items like plastic cups, deli containers and bubble wrap. Check the Coop's website for exact collection times and recycling requirements.
Sara Bloomberg, a member of the Coop's Environmental Committee, notes that this is "definitely not a 'drop-off" program, so be prepared to stick around for a while and sort your own trash.
Surprisingly, according to Regina Sandler-Phillips, a member of the Environmental Committee, only a few of the Coop's 16,000 members take advantage of its recycling program and "even fewer 'reduce and reuse' on a regular basis."
And, of course, reducing and reusing are where being a great recycler truly begins. If I had fewer of those plastic bottles or deli containers or cans in the first place, I wouldn't have to worry so much about how to dispose of them.
There is much more to recycling than just sorting plastic bottles, glass and metals. Electronics, batteries, clothing and food waste all need to be thrown out properly. Yes, that means composting.
I cannot promise I’ll have worked my way up to composting by my next column—actually, I can promise I will not made that life commitment yet. But I’ll do my best to break down the in's and out's for those who are game.
And who knows, maybe I’ll find I'm brave enough after all to finally find out what a worm bin is...