The financial pressure of the coronavirus pandemic has led Mayor de Blasio to do what he’s never done before: propose reductions in New York City’s sprawling $93 billion budget. A good place to start would be the city’s recycling collection program. That may seem like eco-sacrilege but in extraordinary times nothing should be sacrosanct. For recycling, the numbers don’t add up.
By sending recyclables to safe landfills — and avoiding the cost of separate collection — the city could save nearly $200 million. At a time when COVID-19 puts frontline workers, including the city’s 7,000 uniformed Sanitation workers (New York’s fabled “Strongest”), at risk and may make staffing more difficult, simplifying garbage collection makes sense — and would save taxpayer dollars.
Conceived originally as a way to save money by selling paper, glass and metal instead of paying to bury it in landfills, recycling in New York — and nationwide — has become a money-loser and a drain on the city’s budget. Nor is there even a guarantee that recyclables will not ultimately go to a landfill anyway.
In a forthcoming paper for the Manhattan Institute, I find that the elimination of recycling — by combining what’s now put out in blue bins with general refuse — would save the city approximately $185 million annually. These are funds that could help restore the youth jobs program and, were they directed to parks, help provide a direct environmental benefit for outdoors-starved New Yorkers.
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