Recap | Fall 2022

The secret life of trash

For the majority of those of us that live in New York City, recycling is as simple as disposing it in one of the designated city bins; usually one for cardboard and paper, and a second one for plastics, metals, and cartons. But what happens to our recycling after that? As part of this month’s focus on climate change, we went to find out by touring the SIMS recycling facility located in South Brooklyn.

Outside the SIMS recycling facility. The landscape is designed to prevent flooding through the use of native vegetation. NYC, October 6, 2022. (Studio Image)

The facility, the largest of its kind in North America, handles and sorts the recycling of all the boroughs except for Staten Island; that’s over 800 tons of recycling a day. Some things could and should be improved however; NYC currently sits at a 50% capture rate for all our recycling. That means we’re letting lots of good, valuable recyclable materials go directly to trash dumps.

Inside view of the recycling facility. NYC, October 6, 2022. (Studio Image)
Collection arrives to the facility to be sorted. NYC, October 6, 2022. (Studio Image)

During the tour, our educators shared some insightful facts as well as some important myth-busting knowledge:

  • Greasy pizza boxes CAN be recycled, just make sure there’s no leftovers in them!
  • Those white and blue shipping envelopes from Amazon? Please leave those out of your recycling, as they often get stuck in the machines, causing jams in the facility. These pouches, together with other soft plastics, have to be recycled at specific drop off points.
  • Black plastic (think takeout containers) is totally fair game when it comes to recycling it.
  • New York City’s first commercial-scale wind turbine was installed on the facility’s site in 2014, and helps power its operations.

And most importantly, remember that, while places like the SIMS recycling facility are important in our efforts to face the climate change challenges ahead, recycling is last in the three Rs of waste (Reduce - Reuse - Recycle). The primary goal should be for us all to try and reduce our carbon footprint, to reuse as much as we can, and finally, to recycle as much as we can.