NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

On the Scrap Heap

February 26, 2004

Recycling metal, plastic, paper and glass in New York is more expensive than simply sending all the refuse to landfills and incinerators, even if city residents resume the habit of separating a sizable share of those kinds of waste, according to an analysis by the New York City Independent Budget.

  • In 2002, when 20 percent of total waste was recycled, the cost was $34 to $48 more than sending garbage to landfills or incinerators.
  • The city disposed of 3.1million tons of trash and 796,000 tons of recycling material that same year.
  • The report concludes that the cost of recycling in 2002 was about $35 million more than no recycling.

Recycling is more expensive because trucks must travel farther to collect the same amount of recycling refuse than a standard truck would; therefore, the cost of employing two sanitation workers on an eight-hour shift is the same for recycling collection or garbage collection, but the amount of recyclable garbage collected in that shift is far less than the amount of standard garbage.

Moreover, recycling certain items such as glass is particularly expensive since there is low market demand for recycled glass.

In order to reduce the cost of recycling, the city would need to find more efficient ways to collect recycling garbage or contract out the services at a cheaper rate, says the report.

Source: Eric Lipton, "Report Calls Recycling Costlier Than Dumping," New York Times, February 2, 2004.

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