Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Shame of Philadelphia: Recycling

[Editors’ note: 2007 is the year of an incredibly important Mayor’s race in Philadelphia. And as such, we recognize that there are a number of critical issues facing the city, including the extremely serious and indisputably paramount problems surrounding 1) gun violence and 2) public education. About those, however, we have to defer to individuals much smarter than we, and instead focus on ones with more tangible and easily attainable solutions such as transit, zoning and recycling.]

Philadelphia’s residential recycling rate is an abominable 5%. It’s the second lowest among large U.S. cities, ahead of only Houston — not exactly something to boast about — and far behind cities like Chicago (14%), Washington, D.C. (17%), New York (20%), Boston (23%), Baltimore (27%) and Los Angeles (45%).

Two weeks ago, the New York City Department of Sanitation ran a giant, two full page ad in the Sunday New York Times about how the Department’s new 20-year plan is committed to raising the residential recycling rate from 20% to at least 25%.

And from the Philadelphia Streets Department? A Valentine's-themed press release about Philadelphians not being that into dating litterbugs.

One method seems a bit more direct and convincing than the other.

But look, we’re not trying to point fingers (ahem, Mr. Mayor). Pretty much everyone could do more to recycle. (In Japan, the residential recycling rate approaches 80% in some cities.) Were simply trying to give it the attention it deserves.

And to make sure something is done about it.

A city that recycles more is a cleaner city — both on the ground and in the air. It's also a more economically sustainable city. A more environmentally friendly city. A more progressive city. A more desirable city. And so forth.

RecycleBankAnd thanks to Jonathan Saideland the good people at RecycleBank and the Next Great City, there’s an easy solution.
Philadelphians throw out about 800,000 tons of trash a year. The city controller found that, by increasing Philadelphia’s recycling rates to ones comparable to those in peer cities, the city would save $17 million a year.

A 2005-2006 neighborhood pilot program showed that Philadelphians will recycle if provided with these incentives: single-sort containers into which they can throw newspapers, cans, and bottles; weekly curbside pickup; and local store "dollars." Philadelphia’s recycling rate of 5% is the second worst of any large city in the country.

Yet in 2005, when the city partnered with a private company named RecycleBank to provide weekly curbside recycling pickup for 2,500 residents in Chestnut Hill and West Oak Lane neighborhoods, that rate significantly increased.

During the first year of this program, 90% of households in Chestnut Hill and West Oak Lane recycled. The amount of waste recycled rose 300% in Chestnut Hill and 400% in West Oak Lane.
So what’s the hold-up, right?
In John Street's seven years, Philadelphia's recycling rate hasn't budged. It isn't a matter of money. A 2005 report from the then-city controller concluded that recycling would save the city $17 million a year.

Still, the city is fiddling with its pilot programs, while freezing negotiations with RecycleBank. RecycleBank is a locally owned company that runs an "incentive"-based recycling pilot program involving 2,500 homes in Chestnut Hill and West Oak Lane. The company "pays" residents to recycle with an average of $400 in coupons redeemable at local merchants.

RecycleBank's Patrick Fitzgerald says he'd need only a sitdown with John Street to move recycling forward. But after eight months of stalled negotiations with the city's Department of Streets, the mayor has yet to grant Fitzgerald an audience.
There really shouldn’t be a hold-up. Except that, like so many other things, it’s not a priority for Mayor Street.

There’s going to be a special hearing about recycling in City Council next week.
City Council to Hold Hearing on Recycling; Streets Department Called to Answer for Low Recycling Rate

The City Council Streets and Services Committee will hold a Public Hearing on Recycling Thursday, February 22, 2007, at 1:00 PM, in Room 400, City Hall. The subject regards recycling, the low rate of recycling in the City currently, and potential methods to increase the recycling diversion rate.
We would not, however, recommend holding your breath. For real, substantive change, we’re going to need a new sheriff — and probably one that rides in on the Nutter Express.

RecyclingUPDATE: Streets Department to West Philly: Recycle THIS.
With a City Council hearing on Philadelphia's abysmal recycling rate a week away, the Streets Department today is announcing a major expansion that will allow residents in the West and Southwest to recycle plastics and cardboard - and to toss everything into one bin.

So-called single-stream collection began last summer in the Northeast. The department says the program has been so successful - the recycling rate increased about 30 percent - that on March 5, it will expand to cover nearly half the city's 550,000 households.
[Evan Belser, a recycling advocate for Clean Water Action,] said it was "unfortunate" the department decided to expand without consulting its Recycling Advisory Committee, of which he is a member.

"A lot of professionals and very interested, passionate recyclers sit on that committee," he said. "They're not being seen as a resource, and frankly, the recycling program needs all the resources it can get."
It’s true. [Philadelphia Inquirer]

Why Philadelphia should recycle more, spelled out [Next Great City]
There’s a good chance that Philadelphia’s residential recycling rate has remained at 5% for seven years because the Streets Department is simply making it up [Philadelphia City Paper]
Recycle Now Philadelphia [Official Site]
Rewarding Recyclers, and Finding Gold in the Garbage [New York Times]


Anonymous said...

Give out a bucket.

Watch people use it.

Crazy... a bag doesn't remind anyone to do it.

Anonymous said...

I just moved here. I am in a single stream zip code. I went to the store and bought large strong BLUE RECYCLE bags. They are strong and I can tie the top to make sure trash doesn't blow or spill out.

BUT they won't take these.

I have to use an open top container limited to 20 gallons.

So now instead of recycling 80% of my waste I MIGHT be recycling 5% maybe.

AND the shit blows all over the street. What a joke!

Is anyone in the city government into the solution, or do they just want to be stuck in the problem?