Home > NY, sustainability > UPDATE: Recycling in Lawrence, NY

UPDATE: Recycling in Lawrence, NY

so i spoke with Joe Kent, the Assistant Superintendent of the Lawrence Sanitation Dept. this morning, and i came away somewhat impressed. it’s hard for me to throw away plastic, glass, aluminum, and paper and to just assume that it is going to be sorted at the plant and then sent on to be recycled, but apparently that is what happens. this system has been in place since the early 1990’s, and the logic behind it is actually convincing.

the Village of Lawrence used to manage its own waste, which essentially meant burning all trash. at the behest of ‘environmentalists’ and likely the EPA, Lawrence began to consider various options to decrease the amount of toxins it released into the air through its burning program. recycling was an easy answer, but their decision to leave the sorting of recyclables as a post-consumer activity is interesting. a typical curbside recycling program relies on the consumer to sort paper, plastic, aluminum and glass into separate containers, and to place them outside for pickup just like trash. that’s a big assumption, now that i think about it – to believe not only that people will sort their recyclables, but that they will do so efficiently and consistently. i’ve lived in Austin, TX for over 3 yrs, and while their curbside recycling program pleases me and boosts my self-esteem (for doing my part), i have to admit that i don’t always sort as diligently as i should. no doubt that if a similar program were instituted here, practically nothing would get sorted – people around here don’t recognize this type of behavior as destructive or wasteful. such are the ills associated with affluence. anyway – by leaving the sorting for the trash plant, they ensure that a much higher percentage of waste gets recycled. Mr. Kent informed me that on average 25-35% of all trash gets labeled and sorted as recyclable, and then gets picked up by the contracted recycling partner, Waste Management. The rest of the trash gets sent to a burn plant near the Roosevelt Field mall (if you’ve ever noticed a burning smokestack near the mall, that’s it).

i then asked about composting. since 25-35% of the trash is recyclable, then the remainder must be a mix of organic and inorganic waste. i would guesstimate that about 40% of the remaining trash is organic – think about all the leftover food and table scraps and fruits and vegetables that get thrown away. does that get sorted as well? unfortunately no – anything that isn’t recyclable is burned. the Dept. of Sanitation does apparently run a composting program, though. it takes all grass clippings, branches, and other assorted collections gathered by landscapers and gardeners. that’s pretty good.

i then asked about visiting the plant where everything is sorted, but was unfortunately denied – supposedly due to safety and insurance issues. i can kind of buy that claim, but it would be great to see this in action if its all that they say it is. Mr. Kent indicated that they were trying to pull together a website with facts and video to explain their efforts to the public – that would be great b/c nobody knows that this occurs at all.

overall, i was actually impressed by the explanation. again, i would like to see some hard data to back up the claims, but overall it makes sense and seems more beneficial than curbside recycling. go Lawrence!

Categories: NY, sustainability
  1. February 17, 2006 at 7:18 am

    lawrence rocks!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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