New York City Department of Sanitation releases waste characterization study

The study found New Yorkers are producing less waste and recycling more than they did five years ago.

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The New York City Department of Sanitation (DSNY), has announced the release of its 2017 NYC Residential, School and New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) Waste Characterization Study, the latest look at what New Yorkers put in their trash, recycling and organics bins.

Results from the study include:

  • New Yorkers are producing less waste at home than ever before, and 68 percent of what is thrown away belongs in a curbside organics or recycling bin.
  • Organics, including food scraps, food-soiled paper and yard waste, are the largest and still growing category of waste, representing the biggest opportunity for New Yorkers to divert waste from landfills.
  • After New York state implemented an electronic scrap disposal ban, e-scrap has declined by 60 percent. 
  • New Yorkers are best at recycling cardboard and most often forget to recycle aluminum.
  • Cartons and aseptic boxes, including milk and juice cartons, are the most commonly misplaced recyclable items.

“The study is first and foremost a reflection of what we buy and choose to get rid of. It shows how consumer activity has changed through the years and, hopefully, makes us think about the impact of our purchasing decisions,” Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia says. “More specifically, this study tells us that our efforts to reduce, reuse and recycle our waste are working. The average New York City household throws away less and recycles more today than five years ago. The study also shows us that we have incredible opportunities to develop and grow programs to achieve even more. Together, we are working toward our goal of sending zero waste to landfills by 2030.”

The department conducted similar studies in 2005 and 2013. When results are compared through the years, waste characterization studies can help to measure the success of diversion programs and provide broader insight into the evolving waste stream by documenting consumer consumption patterns and the design of products being discarded. Waste characterization studies can also, in part, reveal the success of waste management policies and programs by measuring the reduction of targeted components of the waste stream.

The study provides data on each segment of the waste stream and provides context behind the observed changes. For example, in 2005 the average New Yorker recycled more than 100 pounds of newspaper. In 2007, this total was less than 20 pounds, reflecting the changing way we receive news. Also, as product manufacturers have modified their packaging, the study shows marked changes in certain types of recyclables including more rigid plastic containers and less glass containers. 

The department conducted the study over spring, summer and fall in 2017, and it fulfills the department’s requirements under Local Law 40 of 2010. Around 800 samples were hand sorted by the study team into 70 main sort categories and an additional 172 subcategories to get a detailed understanding of the variety of plastic and paper products in the waste stream.

The study and accompanying documents may be found at nyc.gov/wastestudy.   


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