The nation's biggest city, in a far-reaching effort to limit its impact on the environment, is set to mark Earth Day by announcing the ambitious goal of reducing its waste output by 90 per cent by 2030.
The Zero Waste plan, which includes an overhaul of the city's recycling program, incentives to reduce waste and tacit support for the City Council's plan to dramatically reduce the use of plastic shopping bags, will be announced by Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio on Wednesday. Its goal is sweeping: New York would be the largest city in the Western Hemisphere to adopt the plan, which aims to reduce the amount of its waste by more than 3 million tons from its 2005 level of about 3.6 million tons.
The waste reduction plan is part of an update to the sustainability project named PlaNYC, created by de Blasio's predecessor, Michael Bloomberg, to provide a framework for mitigating the impacts of population growth and a changing climate on the city's infrastructure. De Blasio, who largely praised PlaNYC, is keeping its components but rebranding it OneNYC.
"The average New Yorker throws out nearly 15 pounds of waste a week, adding up to millions upon millions of tons a year," de Blasio said in a statement to The Associated Press. "To be a truly sustainable city, we need to tackle this challenge head on."
For decades, the city's trash has been exported by rail or barge and sent to facilities in South Carolina, Virginia, New Jersey, Pennsylvania or upstate New York. The new plan would eliminate almost all of the garbage exports, which currently cost more than $350 million a year.
The amount of waste produced by the city has fallen 14 per cent since 2005 due to an increase in recycling, and a key component of the Zero Waste plan is to bolster that output by simplifying the process.
Currently, residential buildings have two types of recycling bins. The city's new single-stream plan, already used by other cities, would consolidate all of the recycling into one type of bin by 2020.
Organics — food scraps, yard waste and other things that cannot be recycled — make up 31 per cent of the city's residential waste stream. A program to collect that material directly from residents' homes is being expanded to nearly 200,000 residents by year's end, and officials want to serve every home in the city by the end of 2018. The city, which has about 8.5 million residents, also will offer economic incentives to participate, including potentially a property tax rebate for homeowners.
The city also aims to reduce commercial waste by 90 per cent by 2030 by adopting a program similar to what is being used with residential buildings. That could also mean tax incentives for businesses who participate and fines for those who don't.
And while the de Blasio administration stopped short of endorsing a City Council bill that proposes a 10-cent fee for use of plastic bags, officials said that reducing their use is a priority and that they would co-ordinate efforts with the council.
A spokeswoman for de Blasio said some of the funding for the Zero Waste program would be revealed in next month's budget proposal but noted there would also be cost savings due to the dramatic reduction of garbage being shipped out of state.
The OneNYC presentation, which also is going to include other capital expenditures meant to improve the city's aging infrastructure, is meant to build on de Blasio's environmental record, which includes a ban on Styrofoam boxes and the goal to reduce carbon emissions from city buildings by 80 per cent by 2050.
Environmental groups briefed on the plan Tuesday applauded its wide-ranging scope.
"We see cities all over the world struggling with waste," said Michael Berkowitz, president of 100 Resilient Cities. "A more efficient city is a more resilient city, and that means it's a stronger city."