Friday, July 21, 2006

Recycling Ridiculousness

We were hoping that the city wouldn't succumb to the ideological fervor of the Zero Waste coalition but, aided and abetted by the council's insistence, a separate office of recycling (staffed as of now by six dedicated environmental advocates) has been set up-outside of the DSNY- under the auspices of the Council on the Environment. What can we expect from this first step in the wrong direction?

Some hints are contained in today's NY Times story on the renewed recycling efforts that has been grafted on to the just approved SWMP. As the paper reports, "Under the new trash plan... residents will be expected to do more recycling and composting..." How will these great expectations be achieved?

Ah, there's the rub. The recycling effort will be honchoed by a new and seemingly autonomous office that will be run by a quasi-governmental agency outside of the purview of the sanitation department. In fact it was expressly conceived in this fashion because of the feeling, justified it seems to us, that the department was not committed to this important task.

However, how will this new six person strike force accomplish its task if in fact DSNY itself remains in charge of the collections? It's hard to imagine just how the two contrasting mindsets will function in any coordinated manner.

So what's the plan? Well the new office, run by old council hand Marcel Van Ooyen, is poised to "work with building superintendents and residents to get them to stop tossing things into the garbage." All with a staff of six! Undaunted, Marcel tells the Times, "There's a real opportunity to help New Yorkers understand what can be recycled and how to do it." With six people?

Or are we simply looking at the expansion of a nascent city bureaucracy that will be the true heir of the Recycle First Coalition that was around in the early nineties during the last SWMP? That group, father of our friends at Zero Waste, saw the creation of recycling coordinators on every city block as a necessary measure to win the hearts and minds of New Yorkers to recycle.

Te irony here is that both Zero Waste and Recycle First are suspicious of the ability and will of DSNY but do not have any basic distrust of the ability of a command bureaucracy to accomplish the formidable task of recycling in a city as complex as New York. Both believe in the ability of the government to create the popular will to achieve far-reaching environmental goals.

Which brings us back to the basic philosophy and program of Zero Waste, an agenda that is the foundation of the new recycling office. It is the program of a group that has an inherent faith in the expansion of government and, concomitantly, a suspicion and hostility to business. Its answer to the problem of commercial food waste will not be a support for disposers (a program that would save business money while doing no damage to the environment), but for expensive laws and mandates that will escalate the cost of doing business in the city.

This mindset is revealed by the response of many of these folks to Intro 133: "Why should the government and its citizens pay for private garbage disposal? Indeed! Why should the government that collects hundreds of millions of dollars a year from the city's supermarkets and restaurants treat these businesses like the tax paying citizens that they are?

Lastly, as we have noted, the Zero folks want to eventually hand out 50,000 compost bins so that everybody can participate in their grand waste reduction scheme. Talk about a literal rat's nest. Of course all of this will go nowhere once the cost and scope of the effort becomes clear (and when city finances hit a snag). But by then the escalating cost of exporting and landfilling will have become inexorable.