Managing hazardous waste in New York City

Posted on 17 April 2014.

What does it take for a city to set up an effective waste management system? Professional expertise, support from the city authorities, and the active involvement of its citizens.

The New York City authorities have set up five collection points in five city boroughs, used by twenty to thirty citizens use the collection points every week. Six hundred metric tons of hazardous waste is collected every year. And that’s without counting the thousands of people who took part in the annual “SAFE Disposal” operation launched in spring 2012, in partnership with Veolia. Although these impressive figures reflect the size of the city, they’re also the result of a single, unified effort.

Why was this operation important?

Pesticides, detergents, mercury, paint, oils, electronic goods, medications…
If the list of “hazardous” products is almost as long as the list of the dangers they pose to humans and their environment, which include infections, cancer, explosions, inflammability  and toxicity. This waste obviously has to be treated, especially since so much of it can be recycled. But despite the “DANGER” and “WARNING” signs printed on their packaging, most end up in conventional landfills. That’s why the residents of five New York boroughs (Queens, Brooklyn, Bronx, Staten Island and Manhattan) now benefit from easy-access collection points, and the peace of mind that comes from knowing that their waste will be taken to recycling and fuel production facilities, or incinerated.

Waste collection in New York’s boroughs: SAFE Disposal ©Veolia
Waste collection in New York’s boroughs: SAFE Disposal ©Veolia

Unexpected success

“We collected 10 times more waste than expected.”

“In Queens, collection was scheduled to start at 10 am. At 9:30 am, the line stretched ten blocks, filling the streets and blocking traffic. We collected ten times more waste than expected,” recalls David Hirchler, Director, Waste Prevention at the New York City Department of Sanitation. That was in 2012, during the first “SAFE Disposal” event – an apparently straightforward operation that nevertheless required a huge amount of organization, including signposting the drop-off points, providing a reception service for users, sorting and recording the waste by type, then packaging and loading it for transport by Veolia’s teams. But it was worth the effort. In 2013, New Yorkers once again turned up in large numbers, showing that they weren’t just concerned about the environment: they had decided they could – and wanted to – play an active role in protecting the planet.
In 2014, “SAFE Disposal” will be organized city-wide from April 26 to May 17, with one collection day per borough. A great incentive to sort out those cluttered closets...

Find out more :

The event on New York City website
Twitter account of NYC Recycles