New Orleans recycling lags far behind the national average; disinterest, the world economy quoted | Local policy
New Orleans recycles just 3.1% of the trash residents place on the sidewalk for pickup, according to data provided by Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s office. That means 97% ends up in the River Birch landfill in Waggaman.
The city’s recycling rate, also known as the diversion rate, is one-tenth the national rate. The US Environmental Protection Agency reports that 32.1% of all municipal solid waste nationwide was recycled or composted in 2018. Some cities and states far exceed this number; San Francisco, for example, has had an 80% diversion rate for nearly a decade.
New Orleans’ diversion rate is even lower than the national average in 1960, when the country had a diversion rate of 6%.
The 3.1% figure does not take into account all of New Orleans’ trash, only trash picked up by the city’s residential garbage collection and recycling program, or about 909,000 tons from 2017 to 2021. Commercial properties, which hire private collection companies, are not included in the calculation.
New Orleans’ diversion rate was particularly low in 2021: 1.7%. That’s no surprise, as City Hall suspended the recycling program completely for the last four months of the year, after Hurricane Ida struck on August 29. In September, the Cantrell administration reduced recycling to focus on the widespread accumulation of trash, trash and debris.
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Recycling resumed for about half of the city in January. The other half, downriver neighborhoods served by Metro Service Group, will not have curbside recycling until City Hall finalizes a new waste contract, which officials hope to do before July 1.
But the low diversion rate every year since 2017 signals more systemic issues. Sanitation Director Matt Torri told a city council committee on Thursday that the explanation for this “very low” diversion rate is multifaceted, from local membership to changes in the global economy. recycling.
For starters, only 50% of eligible addresses participate in the municipal recycling program, Torri said. Even for residents who have recycling bins, there are limits to what they can hold, especially compared to cities with the highest diversion rates.
Curbside recycling is coming back to New Orleans, but only for about half of the city.
New Orleans Curbside Recycling only accepts two of seven types of recyclable plastic, for example. Like many towns, it does not accept glass, nor does it operate a municipal composting program for yard waste and food waste. Torri said that 25-30% of items that reach the recycling center end up in the landfill because they are “contaminated” with materials that the recycling center does not accept.
The restrictions simply reflect what recycling centers, known as material recovery facilities, are willing to accept, Torri said: “Right now, all of the city’s recyclable materials go to a only processing facility in Jefferson, Louisiana. They do not accept glass and there are no plans for them to accept glass in the future.
Torri stressed the importance of “single-stream” recycling, meaning a single bin for all materials, all dumped in the same trucks and all sent to the same recycling center. City hall could set up separate recycling just for glass, Torri said, but that would require thousands of new plastic bins and a whole new fleet of trucks.
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“Operating another fleet of trucks across the city for all separate collection in many ways negates the benefits of glass recycling,” he said.
For now, residents can bring the recyclable glasses to the municipal drop-off center on Elysian Fields Avenue on Saturdays between 8 a.m. and 1 p.m.
“I think we’re committed to looking to expand the deposit model,” Torri said.
New Orleans has announced reductions in the materials it will collect through its residential recycling program.
In the long term, Torri said, new centers popping up across the country are accepting glass and other currently restricted items, under single-stream recycling. He said the town hall was working to attract a company to open “a state-of-the-art recycling processing facility to expand both what we accept for recycling and the volume of what we accept.” we accept”.
“It’s definitely not something that could happen overnight. It’s going to take a significant investment from a company to come here and do that,” Torri said. “But we are actively pursuing that.”
The need for more recycling centers is not unique to New Orleans. Recycling in the United States is in something of a crisis, largely due to the boom in new plastic manufacturing and policy changes in China.
“Recycling has changed a lot over the past 10 years,” Torri said.
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For decades, much of America’s recycling has been shipped to China. But in 2018, the country began limiting the amount of foreign recycling it would accept. This forced the United States to rely more on domestic processing centers, which lacked the capacity to absorb all the material that would previously have gone to China.
“With China limiting its markets, everything stays domestic, and there are limited places it can go,” Torri said.
At the same time, a boom in the production of oil and gas in the United States – a necessary ingredient for making plastics – has made new plastic cheaper than ever and made it harder for recycled plastics to compete.
“It used to be a business where our contractors picked up recycling and actually got paid for the material when they brought it to the processing center,” Torri said. “Now it costs them five times the amount per load to get it to the treatment facility than it does to landfill.
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Cities across the country have closed or suspended their recycling programs in response to these changes. It almost happened in New Orleans in 2019, according to The Times-Picayune; instead, City Hall has imposed more restrictions on the items residents put in their recycling bins.
It seems that for New Orleans, the biggest limiting factor is the existence of a recycling center that can handle a wide variety and quantity of items. But it is unclear whether such a center will materialize.
In the meantime, Torri insisted on getting more resident buy-in for the existing curbside recycling program, expanding access to recycling centers and enticing more residents to pay for private glass recycling and composting services.
“It’s an evolving and changing environment when it comes to recycling. But I think there’s a commitment from the city to do these programs, bring them back and see them grow.