How We Can Take Steps to Solve Our Recycling Crisis

In last week’s post, we discussed the convergence of factors that led to the ongoing recycling crisis. To address it properly and overhaul our recycling system, we will need a concentrated effort from various stakeholders at different levels. Here, we analyze some of the policy responses that could together help solve the recycling crisis.

Consumer education programs

One solution is to educate consumers about how to properly recycle. Many New Yorkers don’t know how to properly recycle and that means wet paper, soiled plastic, broken glass, and other non-recyclables contaminate otherwise recyclable items

Consumer education campaigns can give consumers the nitty-gritty of recycling, so they know that a greasy pizza box can’t go into paper and cardboard recycling but it can be composted. Proper recycling essentially means learning what can be recycled and what can’t, as well as how to properly sort recyclables. Read our tip sheet with more detail on how to recycle effectively.  

The NYS Department of Environmental Conservation has a grant program that funds municipalities’ recycling coordinators and educational programs. These include how-tos and mailers, brochures, websites, billboards, broadcast and print ads. DEC notes that these efforts can also include staging children’s shows, erecting displays at county fairs, and handing out “America Recycles Day” (every November 15th) paraphernalia showing the value of recycling to society.

Intergovernmental partnerships

Another solution is intergovernmental partnerships. These partnerships allow municipalities to pool their resources to deal with the recycling crisis.

For example, three Long Island towns cobbled together one such partnership in a matter of weeks when the area’s largest single recycling plant abruptly pulled out of a 25-year-contract because it wasn’t making enough money selling recyclables.

The towns – Brookhaven, Southold, and Smithtown – formed a partnership and are jointly collecting recyclables.  They worked together to educate residents about the change, which required residents to move from single stream to dual stream recycling.  The towns conducted a PR blitz on social media, newspapers, local television and other outlets to educate consumers.

Extended Producer Responsibility

Some solutions that deal with today’s recycling challenges also simultaneously lay the foundation for a new recycling model. Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) laws, which give producers more responsibility for dealing with their products once consumers are finished using them, are one of these solutions and are among our green policy priorities this year.

Currently, municipalities bear most of the responsibility for getting rid of the increasing amount of waste we generate, from picking it up to recycling it to disposing of it.

EPR laws shift the primary responsibility for disposing of products to the producer. This strategy incentivizes producers to search for more environmentally-sensitive designs that minimize the product’s negative impacts on humans and the environment at every stage of its lifecycle.

Implementing EPR policies would establish a more equitable system where manufacturers shoulder more of the responsibility for disposing of the products they sell us.

Expanding the bottle bill

Wine and liquor bottles are currently the largest source of glass waste in New York. Removing them from the waste stream is another way to help solve our recycling crisis.

The New York State Returnable Container Law, or the Bottle Bill, placed a refundable deposit on bottles and cans of water, soda, and beer. This law has played an important role in incentivizing returns and drastically reducing solid waste pollution. There is still significant space for improving it. There are proposals in the state legislature to expand the law to wine, liquor, hard cider, sports drinks, and juices. Read more about expanding the bottle bill in our previous blog post.

NYLCV will continue to advocate for many of these and other solutions to today’s recycling crisis.

By: Kate Rice and Petar Ivosevic