What can you recycle in in New York?

All the containers you see here are now recyclable!

ZOMG! You can now put your greek yogurt cups and takeout containers in the recycling bin.

And apparently, no one cares. Because I barely heard a peep about (what I consider) an extremely important milestone in New York City history, when it was announced in April.

There were clues. Green in Brooklyn announced they would no longer be accepting number 5 plastics  for recycling in its monthly newsletter. At the coworking and event space Green Spaces, a small newspaper clipping was tacked to the fridge. Otherwise, the announcement came and went, despite assurances that the change would be well publicized.

But yes, this is a big deal. City residential recycling rates have fallen to an appalling 15%, and a big reason is confusion around recycling. (Also, laziness. Hello, trash chutes.) When I’m holding one of many items made from plastic in my hand, considering whether to trash it or not, I usually look for the itty bitty number engraved on the bottom that tells me what kind of plastic it is. If it says number five, I would put it in a separate container and take it down to Whole Foods, but how many people actually do that? Of course, the number is often missing altogether, and I’ve heard that recycling the wrong thing can totally gunk up the system. So I err on the side of throwing it away. And then feel very guilty about it.

No more. Now if it’s a rigid plastic, it can go in the recycling.  The city hopes to reduce the amount of waste going to landfills by approximately 50,000 tons a year, save taxpayers about $60,000 a year in export costs, and by 2017, push the recycling rate up to 30%. Though New Yorkers only produce an average of 2.9 pounds of garbage daily, compared with 4.4 for the average American, an estimated 36% of trash that New Yorkers throw away is recyclable.

(And a side fun fact: Waste from the trash cans on subway platforms is actually sorted after it’s hauled to New Jersey, and 40% of it is recyclable. You can feel less guilty now about putting that newspaper in the trash can.)

So here’s all you need to know now about recycling in NYC:

  • If it’s rigid plastic or metal, recycle it
  • Rinse everything before you recycle it
  • Don’t recycle mixed stuff, like electronics, 3-ring binders, pens and markers, umbrellas, etc.
  • Food and drink cartons (like the shiny ones for orange juice, milk, soup, etc.) count as rigid plastic
  • Don’t recycle anything dangerous like lighters, homemade pipe bombs, etc.

You can read more at NYCWasteLess.

What’s next?

The most common items found in city garbage are textiles, followed by food waste, hard plastics and dry-cleaner bags. With Bloomberg rolling out city-wide composting soon, the next step after that to reducing city waste is setting up easy textile recycling. As for the dry cleaning bags … maybe convince everyone to use this reusable dry cleaning bag?