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Chatting About Trash at "Cash For Trash"

Build It Green!NYC's director Justin Green spoke this week on a panel entitled "Green for Green: Cash For Trash".  The panel was part of Columbia Business School's Alumni Club sustainability management series.  The panel brought together five very knowledgeable panelists to discuss recycling, reuse and upcycling.  

Moderator Colin Beavan (author and star of No Impact Man) began by discussing resource consumption and the hidden impacts of not recycling.  Specifically, Colin discussed Coltan a metal used in mobile phones.  Coltan is primarily derived from war torn regions in 
Congo. The funds from the sale of Coltan help fund ongoing civil war - leading to the death of thousands of people and misery for millions.  (The ongoing war is also destroying the forests of the eastern lowland gorillas [photo insert courtesy of James Hopkirk, Flickr] and driving them to extinction.)  Only 10% of cellphones are currently recycled in the US.  The low recycling rates means Coltan ends up in landfills and unneeded mining and destruction continue in the Congo.  
  
Resa Dimino - lead author of New York solid waste management plan "Beyond Waste" - stated that  40% of global warming is due to manufacturing.  Since much of the manufacturing for American consumption takes place in China, we tend to blame China for this impact on climate change.  The reality is much of China's climate change emissions are a direct result of our overconsumption and waste of resources (and we don't even get the economic benefit of the manufacturing jobs).  
  
This led to discussion of how to get Americans to recycle more.  Justin discussed how to incentize reuse and recycling of Construction and Demolition waste by requiring a deposit prior to demolition.  A percentage of the deposit would be returned based on percent of materials recycled or reused.   (See our white paper for more info.)
  
Ian Yolles of Recyclebank discussed how they work to reward recycling. In Philadelphia, they have installed sensors on recycling bins that allow them to track recycling weight generated at each household. Households are rewarded with points program they can use at restaurants and stores.

 

The Bloomberg Administration's Request For Proposals (RFP) for a Waste-to-Energy plant in came up in the panelist's discussion.  The Bloomberg Administration is planning to burn 450 tons of waste each day at plant within 80 miles of NYC.  They are considering sites in Astoria, Greenpoint, Long Island City, Randall's Island and Staten Island according to the city's Phase 3 study. 
  
The panel agreed that the city should focus on increasing the New Yorkers awful 15% recycling rate versus burning waste.  The panel laid out numerous opportunities to be pursued including producer responsibility for multiple materials, pushing manufacturers to reduce packaging, banning materials that can not be easily recycled.
  
Panelist discussed how their businesses had created jobs and cash from waste.  Build It Green!NYC has created 20 jobs from waste that would have been landfilled.  Recyclebank works with 3 million people in the US and Britain with a valuation of $200 million.  Justin discussed how regulations to promote recycling can create jobs citing the Pratt paper plant in Staten Island that created 200  jobs.  The plant has helped actually create enough demand for waste paper that NYC carters pickup separated paper waste for free.  But without the initial regulation of paper recycling the plant would not have opened. 
  
Justin added that waste costs businesses a monumental amount of money.  Terracycle works with hospitals to trash into a business opportunity by recycling biohazard suits. 
  
With a new paradigm of viewing reusing and recycling waste as an opportunity and the only ethical response, the panelists encouraged the audience to look for opportunities to create business as well as push for policy that will help make a greener future possible. 

Our Big Gives Back program has given away $300,000 worth of materials benefiting NYC's community and environment.

We processed 765,477 pounds of food scraps and accepted 237,554 pounds of wood chips and leaf matter in 2015! That's over 1 million pounds of organic material diverted from landfills!

The greenhouse gas emissions prevented by our diversion efforts is equivalent to saving 360,000 gallons of gasoline!

Our Big Blooms program has given away 5,345 pieces of retired lumber to build 2,226 garden beds in over 1,269 community and school gardens.

Our Food Scrap Drop-off program serviced 1000 households per week in 2015!