Recycling

A Volunteer’s View


Ladiny Partoredjo volunteers with
GrowNYC's Office of Recycling
Outreach and Education

Going into CUNY Baruch College, I knew that I wanted to major in psychology. However, it wasn’t until my sophomore year that I realized what branch of psychology I wanted to pursue. Taking an environmental psychology class in the fall of that year opened my eyes to the problems happening all around us like the issues of littering, climate change, and the fracking of oil and natural gas. Before taking that class, I was completely oblivious about the world around me, and never realized the real importance of the environment. Of course, I didn’t litter but it was simply because I have always had an issue with seeing trash lying on the floor. After taking this class, I realized that this was the branch I wanted to study further in depth; the study of how humans view the environment and how their actions in the environment provide harmful and dire consequences to their health, their lifestyles and everyone around them. I knew that I wanted to make a change in this world, for our future generations to thrive successfully and healthily.

Growing up in Queens, I’ve always perceived New York City as a city that focused so little on making the world greener and more on establishing new businesses and infrastructure for one goal only: money. I perceived people as those who only focused on what is going on today, oblivious to the impacts their actions provide for the future. Earlier in my junior year, I began looking for internships on my school’s website, trying to find opportunities to make New York City greener and eco-friendly. That’s when I stumbled upon a volunteer/internship opportunity with…GrowNYC.

I decided to volunteer with GrowNYC because I knew I wanted to make a difference in this world, and be a part of an organization that is aware of the troubles all around us and promote effective solutions.  One of the things GrowNYC does is bring awareness on the importance of recycling to local residents and local officials. They address many issues that exist within the five boroughs in New York City and provide solutions to take on these issues.

One of the issues they tackled was how much clothes are disposed every year in the trash, instead of being recycled or donated. What I found surprising was that during the course of one year, NYC residents will throw away about 200,000 tons of clothing, from t-shirts to towels to handbags, simply because it is more convenient than going to a thrift store to donate old clothes. GrowNYC has sought to relieve this issue with their weekly textile collections at Greenmarkets throughout the five boroughs and coordinate special one-time collections in apartment buildings, special events, libraries and more. Having interacted with other GrowNYC volunteers and the staff, I was able to learn more about what compels people to participate and see their tremendous dedication in providing solutions that benefit us and the environment.

GrowNYC also works to connect people with resources such as the re-fashioNYC initiative of the Department of Sanitation (DSNY), which funds GrowNYC’s recycling programs. Designed to make recycling clothing more convenient, re-fashioNYC places clothing collection bins in residential buildings and services them at no cost.  See how easy it can be to recycle textiles with my infographic!

Growing Recycling, One Building at a Time

Jamie Towers General Manager, Victor Berrios, stands with the growing piles of recycling.
Photo: Jamie Towers General Manager, Victor Berrios, stands with the growing piles of recycling  

GrowNYC’s Office of Recycling Outreach and Education works with apartment buildings throughout the five boroughs to identify their challenges to recycling, improve recycling setup and educate all who live and work in the building.  Take the Jamie Towers Cooperative Apartments, for example.  For the past year, GrowNYC has worked with this 4-building,  600-unit complex in the Castle Hill section of the Bronx. We began with a “chute room makeover” on all floors to ensure that recycling areas had the appropriate signage, labeling, bins and bags. We then provided recycling trainings for all maintenance workers and workshops for building residents, who received sets of our Sort & Store recycling totes to help separate materials in their apartments. With the success of these initiatives, the property has gone from producing two bags of recyclables to a veritable mountain of material recovered for a second life. With our help, the building also established an on-site textile recycling collection and became one of the first buildings in the Bronx to collect electronics through the city’s e-cycleNYC program.  Want help for your apartment building?  Send a message to one of our recycling coordinators!

Unexpected Benefits in School Wide Recycling Initiatives

How do you improve recycling in NYC schools?  Involve the whole school in the effort!

Recycling protects our environment, stimulates economic development creating local jobs, and reduces global warming gases, benefitting the entire community.  At these K-12 Staten Island schools in the Recycling Champion Program , involving the entire community was the key to increasing recycling and environmental stewardship, but the additional benefits experienced have been an added bonus.
 

New Dorp High School
New Dorp High School improved cafeteria Organics Collection by launching an outreach campaign. Principal Deirdre De Angelis emphasized the importance of student participation before televising a recycling video in every classroom, featuring their mascot, the Cougar.  Custodial staff installed movie theatre style stantions next to the recycling station and additional staff instruction reinforced sorting. The Green Team sustained the effort by putting up posters and offering prizes for exemplary stewardship.  Cafeteria recycling and organics collection increased by at least 60%.

Students really appreciate the added bonus: the cafeteria is much cleaner, and is a more pleasant place to eat.  Cafeteria staff doesn’t mind the change either, since they were cleaning up after the students!

 

P.S. 30 Westerleigh

P.S. 30 dramatically increased recycling across the school by creating a Green Team that helps with cafeteria monitoring, and also communicates with the student body during morning announcements.   They kicked off their efforts with a school wide contest to decorate all their classroom paper recycling bins. The faculty enthusiastically supported the contest through their artistic flare and integrating recycling into lesson plans. The school’s overall diversion rate improved by 31%, with paper recycling rates increasing by 63% in just a few week.  Parents volunteered weekly to assist the Green Team with their own educational presentation.  According to Sustainability Coordinator Clare Mitchell, participating on this selective team has increased not only ecological literacy and stewardship, but has also proved to be an effective tool to improve attitude and behavior – improving overall academic performance.  

 

P.S. 21 Margaret Emery Elm Park

P.S. 21 created Dr. Seuss-like trees made from milk cartons, soda bottles, and magazines, to reinforce recycling, but also give students a creative way to practice their writing skills.  Students wrote “their story” on individual “leaves” which were strung on wire bases to create the trees.  Decorating the school at holiday time, Principal Gina Merino’s enthusiasm for the project helped student vocabulary “grow” along with school pride and awareness of environmental issues.  The Recycling Champions Program science class lessons reinforced the three RRR’s, which overlap with many requirements in the science Common Core and Regents exams.

Stakeholders in these schools increased recycling by working together, sharing the responsibility to teach and encourage environmental stewardship.  Improving recycling programs benefitted not only the NYC community, but their own school community as well.  For more information on how to improve recycling at your school visit www.grownyc.org/recyclingchampions

GrowNYC Community Compost Partner Profile: Gowanus Canal Conservancy

GrowNYC collects food scraps and other organic waste at various Greenmarkets around the city to distribute to local compost partners in the surrounding area. With the help of community volunteers, New York City’s recycled food scraps are transformed into a nutrient rich soil amendment for farming and greening purposes throughout the five boroughs.

A few minutes’ walk from the F train, Gowanus Canal Conservancy’s (GCC) Salt Lot hosts a monthly compost windrow build for volunteers from around the city. November’s volunteers included about a dozen students from the Brooklyn Technical High School’s Red Cross Club, a group of elementary students from a Bed-Stuy Charter School, and a myriad of volunteers simply happy to enjoy an outdoor-community activity.

Sam and Maria Pruden of Harlem join GCC monthly to participate in composting. Behind Sam and Maria is an illustration of the compost build and process.

The volunteers arrived ready to tackle the record-breaking 10,000 pounds of food scraps that had been collected from four Greenmarkets the day before. The bins of food scraps are dumped and mixed in a large pile on the ground with leaves and yard scraps, taking about 4 hours. The pile, or windrow, will sit for two weeks, and then be turned by a GCC staff member once a week for the following four weeks, before it is sifted to make a final product. At the end of these six weeks, GCC has a fertile soil amendment for tree pits and rain gardens that help prevent polluted water from entering the canal.

Two students from Brooklyn Technical School’s Red Cross Club carry a bin of food scraps to the compost pile to be mixed with leaves and other dry yard trimmings.

GCC Coordinators Jared McGuire and Christine Petro, sift processed compost to make final product with a Bed-Stuy group leader.

Christine Petro has been volunteering with GCC for almost two years and has noticed a steady increase in the amount of food scraps being delivered from the weekend markets over the past three months. Salt Lot is just one of many community compost sites around the city. Asked about the objective of these local projects, she says, “The objective is twofold: to have a positive environmental impact for the surrounding community, and also to teach the practice of composting for educational and applications going forward.”

Jared McGuire and Christine Petro, GCC Volunteer Coordinators.

Meet the Swapateers



Since 2007, GrowNYC’s Office of Recycling Outreach and Education has been hosting community swap events to reduce waste and engage residents in the practice of reuse.  Stop ‘N’ Swap® helps keep good things out of the landfill by bringing together people with good things they no longer need and those who can use those items.  We have held 47 swaps so far, serving nearly 12,000 New Yorkers.  With the addition of two new staff dedicated to our Stop ‘N’ Swap program, we aim to dramatically increase access to these events.  Meet TK Zellers and Carl-Harry Nau, the team working to bring a swap to each of the city’s 59 Community Districts each year. 

What’s your favorite part of the job?

CHN: At a Stop ‘N’ Swap you have a diverse group of people show up all looking for something new to add to their life. Interacting with the folks at the swap is fun because you get a sense of who they are and why they are here, and I get to see cool new stuff. 

TKZ: Telling people who’ve never heard of Stop ‘N’ Swaps about what they are and what we do.  There’s always a moment of disbelief, and it sometimes takes some convincing to get people to believe that, for instance, ‘it’s totally free!’, but in the end everyone I talk to is impressed, happy, and excited to get swapping!  I’ve even got some high-fives, and one hug so far. 

Have you always been inclined to reuse things? 

CHN: I grew up in a house with two brothers and both my parents working their tails off to pay rent. So it was safe to say things like clothes, cell phones, video games, and toys were passed down from one child to the next.  I even took some items that my friends no longer wanted. Reusing is second nature.

TKZ: I always liked the idea of repurposing things for more creative uses.   Every gift I gave anyone until about the age of 16 was handmade out of old papers, cans, bottles and duct tape. My artistic talent didn’t ever live up to my aspirations, but it’s the thought that counts, and ugly or not, that soda-can-picture-frame stayed out of the waste stream!

What are some of the reactions you get when bringing a swap to a community for the first time? 
CHN:
People usually ask whether we’ll be back the next week, or when we will return to the neighborhood.  Swaps receive a warm reception from those who grasp the concept of what we do and they also conjure feelings of regret by those who pass by and realize what they missed out on.

Does the swap change from neighborhood to neighborhood, or is it relatively consistent?

CHN: I have noticed the items that are swapped change from location to location. Some areas have more books, others have more house wares, and some areas have more children’s clothing.

The Stop ‘N’ Swap volunteers are pretty incredible.  What keeps them going?  Do  you stretch before the event? 

CHN: I want to say we have a great staff that works alongside the volunteers at each event. The staff leads by example and takes an “All Hands On Deck” approach during all aspects of the event. We also care for the opinions and concerns of our volunteers and take care to assign them to appropriate tasks. I will say stretching is not a bad idea!   

TKZ: We haven’t come up with a Stop ‘N’ Swap calisthenics warm-up routine yet, but we do make sure to supply everyone with plenty of food and coffee before and after.  I think a big motivator is how much fun Swaps can be.  You never know what you’re going to find at the sorting table, and impromptu fashion shows and ‘what-is-this’ guessing games are common.  Everyone manages to have a good time while helping hundreds of people find a new home for thousands of pounds of good, reusable stuff. 

What is one of your favorite swap moments? 

CHN: At our Upper West Side swap I spoke with a woman who came to gather items for her friends at a nursing home. She said that she had the ability to leave the facility and she knew that the others would have relished the opportunity to attend.  Later I was asked by someone from the neighborhood what items people like to take at swaps and I told her sometimes people come looking for items to help others, such as the woman from the nursing home.  At that point I created a connection between them and the lady who lived in the area left and returned with 6 new walkers, which went back to the residents of the nursing home. 

What do you hope people take away from the experience? 

CHN: I hope they understand that everything they own has value, and even though they may no longer need the item that someone else can use it.  I hope the joy people get from the items they find encourages them to continue to participate and bring their unwanted items so that they can have a second life.

TKZ: Besides a few pounds of reused items, I hope people leave Stop ‘N’ Swaps with a newfound respect for reuse, and a curiosity to find out more about using and wasting less.  There are so many resources to help people figure out ways to repurpose, repair, recycle or reuse anything we might otherwise just waste.  GrowNYC and Stop ‘N’ Swaps are a great place to start!

P.S. 154 Queens Wins the Big Lift Recycling Contest


This spring, GrowNYC’s Recycling Champions Program held a recycling contest amongst schools in the program to see which school could achieve the highest recycling rates. 22 schools participated in the six-week long "Big Lift"– where schools once weekly weighed the recycling and trash from classrooms, offices, and the cafeteria. With an overall recycling rate of 54%, P.S. 154 in Queens was the grand prize winner! P.S. 154 increased their recycling rate by 268% and reduced the amount of trash by 46%. Other top winners include: P.S. 29 Brooklyn and the High School for Law and Public Service in Manhattan which improved recycling rates by 146% and 88% respectively. P.S. 25 Bronx had a 47% overall recycling rate – 20% for metal, plastic, and cartons.

As a result of their outstanding recycling rate, P.S. 154Q won a school greening package valued at $2,000! The prize included tree mulching, park benches made from recycled plastic and a new school garden. On June 25, students and faculty worked alongside staff from GrowNYC to construct the school garden and assist with tree mulching. For many students, it was their first experience with hands-on landscaping and gardening. Students filled the bed with top soil and planted a number of perennials and herbs that will attract butterflies. In addition to beautifying the school, the 8' x 3' raised bed constructed from recycled lumber, will serve as a valuable educational tool for students to learn about the natural environment.

Greenmarket and Compost+Textile Recycling Easter Schedule Changes

Easter Greenmarket Schedule - Sunday, March 31st
Also, Some food scrap composting and textile recycling collections at Greenmarket will be affected by the Easter holiday:

MANHATTAN
Tompkins Square Park Greenmarket - OPEN Saturday, March 30th (food scrap collections-YES, textile recycling-NO). CLOSED Sunday, March 31st (no food scrap and textile collections). 
79th Street Greenmarket - OPEN
Columbia University Greenmarket - OPEN

QUEENS
Jackson Heights Greenmarket - OPEN

BROOKLYN
Carroll Gardens Greenmarket - CLOSED, No food scrap or textile collections.
Cortelyou Greenmarket - OPEN

Meet a Recycling Outreach Coordinator

At GrowNYC’s Office of Recycling Outreach and Education, five stellar staffers are responsible for covering outreach activities throughout the five boroughs. For almost five years, Ermin Siljkovic has spent countless hours getting to know Manhattan’s communities and working to improve their recycling habits. Ermin took a few minutes between recycling presentations to answer a few questions about his job, and his personal quest for a more sustainable NYC.

What do you enjoy most about your job?
Interacting with so many people from all different walks of life and informing them of choices we have available to us, and which of those can have a positive impact on their lives. I guess I am sort of a good deed machine and this is essentially what drives me every day.

What is one of the most common public misconceptions about recycling in NYC?
That it is “too confusing” and “has changed so many times”. Both are untrue!

What is one golden rule you try to teach New Yorkers about recycling?
I encourage folks to stick to the basics by simply going by the tips we teach. There many things in life that we must learn in order to adapt to our roles at home or at work. Recycling is one of those things and thankfully, learning how to recycle at home is not very difficult. Unfortunately, we are not where we would like to be in regards to our diversion rate so I think a big part of our mission is to promote the simplicity of the DSNY curbside residential recycling program. If we can do that successfully I believe we will have then made great strides toward achieving our goal.

Did you recycle as a kid?
I grew up in an era in NYC when our trash burned right under our noses, and later, our family moved to a suburban area where recycling wasn’t implemented until I was practically on my way out to college. Other than occasionally recycling bottles at the supermarket, the short answer is “no”.

What got you interested in recycling?
The realization that I am accountable for my actions and that how I manage my waste plays a big role in this consideration.

What are some steps you have taken in your personal life to leave less of a footprint on the environment?
Aside from composting more of my food scraps (most recently with indoor Bokashi composting) or donating more of my unwanted personal items, I have been really big on growing at least some of my own food during the year and buying locally whenever I can. I am encouraged that this not only benefits the environment but helps build resilience in our communities.

Do you have a favorite story from the field?
Hard to pick just one. I know it sounds cliché but every day there is another new story. I always love finding “diamonds in the rough” which can be best described as individual people who want to recycle but just don’t know how or where to recycle or a property manager or building superintendent who has been looking for advice but just didn’t have access to a person who can explain it to them in way they could understand.

Have a Superbowl Party as Green as the Big Game

This year’s Super Bowl is being touted as the “greenest ever”.  Out-green the Meadowlands with these tips for your own Super Bowl party!
 

Greenmarket Food Scrap Collection Surpasses 2 Million Pound Mark

Since 2011, GrowNYC has worked to expand food scrap collections at Greenmarket. In partnership with the NYC Department of Sanitation, the program has grown to 30 markets, averaging 100,000 pounds a month diverted from disposal and used locally for renewable energy or fertile compost for urban farms, gardens and more.

To date more than 2 million pounds of food scraps have been dropped at market, which would fill enough of our collection boxes to create a stack taller than Mount Everest! But the impact is even greater: every apple core deposited in a compost bin has been a vote for increased composting citywide, which has come to fruition with the Department of Sanitation’s new Organics Collection Program. Keep on composting!

Read the complete press release here.

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