OneNYC: New York City’s Zero Waste Initiative

The United Nations climate change summit in Poland got under way this week (Dec 3), opening with a stark message from Sir David Attenborough’s: “Right now we are facing a manmade disaster of global scale, our greatest threat in thousands of years: climate change.” The OneNYC initiative in New York City aims to tackle climate change one step at a time; starting with waste management, and subsequently aiming to go completely zero waste by 2030.

OneNYC is well on the way to  achieving its initial goals, as recent data shows. New Yorkers are producing less domestic waste than ever, despite their population increasing rapidly. NYC was the first city to align with the Paris Agreement; reducing annual greenhouse gas emissions 15 percent. It has increased its solar power by 600% and enacted landmark environmental justice legislation to guide City decisions. There’s no doubt that the big apple is taking action.

DSNY and GrowNYC team members with a few Environmental Ambassadors at the 2017 graduation. (c) OneNYC

New York City wants to leave trash in the past, and move towards a cleaner and waste free future. 2015 saw the introduction of the OneNYC initiative, which contained a dense and comprehensive plan to reduce garbage output, increase green energy, make the roads safer, improve recycling rates, and divert organics from landfill.

OneNYC is “New York City’s plan to become the most resilient, equitable, and sustainable city in the world.” As explained OneNYC homepage:

“In 2015, New York City committed to becoming the most sustainable big city in the world and a global leader in the fight against climate change. We committed to reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions 80 percent by 2050 (80×50); to having the cleanest air of any U.S. city; to achieving Zero Waste by 2030 (0x30); to investing in contaminated land remediation; and to ensuring all New Yorkers have better access to parks.”

NYC loves organics! Bay Ridge residents showing off their NYC Organics bin. (c) OneNYC

New York City also is a part of C40 Cities network. C40 Cities network aims to connect:

“[…] 96 of the world’s greatest cities to take bold climate action, leading the way towards a healthier and more sustainable future. Representing 700+ million citizens and one quarter of the global economy, mayors of the C40 cities are committed to delivering on the most ambitious goals of the Paris Agreement at the local level, as well as to cleaning the air we breathe.”

By 2030 as a part of C40 Cities network and with OneNYC initiative New York City aims to reduce the amount of material it sends to landfills by 90% from a 2005 baseline.

How, at almost 400 years old, does the most densely populated city in the United States plan to do it?

New York City’s zero waste plan is to eventually eliminate the use of landfills. According to 2017 data, more than 3 million tons of waste are disposed of yearly by its inhabitants. No local landfills are available; hence the current solution for waste is to dispose it in out-of-state refuse facilities.

Not only does this create negative environmental consequences, but is also extremely costly for the council. Hence, the OneNYC zero waste initiative will not only eliminate the use of landfills, but will also reduce the city’s CO2 emissions and save taxpayers and officials great expense. As much as $310 million could be saved each year as a result of these changes.

Sanitation workers load e-waste into a collection truck to be recycled. (c) OneNYC

New York City is well on the way to achieving its goal, and its zero waste initiative emphasises:

  • Expanding organics collection to serve more than 3.3 million residents, which is the largest program of its kind in the country;
  • Offering single-stream recycling and eventually an equitable Save-as-You-Throw waste program to engage all residents in waste reduction while expanding markets for recycled materials;
  • Implementing zero waste school programs. A part of it is a partnership between New York City and sustainable bottle manufacturer S’well. It will see that 320 000 high school students across all five New York City’s boroughs will receive a free reusable water bottle. In that way abstaining from more than 54 million single-use plastic bottles;
  • Expanding opportunities to reuse and recycle textiles and electronics. Since 2015 the city’s electronic waste recycling programs have diverted more than 15 million pounds of unwanted electronics for recycling;
  • Reducing commercial waste disposal by 90% by 2030 through a variety of new programs and mandates.

It is clear that New York City is committed to becoming a worldwide leader in solid waste management by achieving the goal of attaining zero waste status by 2030. Hopefully, with the support of the C40 Cities Network, more areas will be able to become zero waste in the foreseeable future.

The OneNYC report can be downloaded as a PDF and read in full.

We recently interviewed resident New Yorker and zero waste advocate Max La Manna about his lifestyle and how he’s determined to make an individual difference in a town of millions. To make a personal lifestyle alteration, it’s possible to learn more about sustainability and climate change and how to reduce personal carbon footprint and waste at home.

Baiba Šustere

Baiba Šustere is a writer whose work focuses on mindfulness, health and wellbeing.