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NYC’s Commercial Recycling Laws

NYC’s commercial recycling laws are hard to keep up with and key information is often difficult to find. Don’t stress! We’ll help you stay up to date and in compliance.

The most recent official notice regarding commercial recycling rules in NYC was released by the NYC Department of Sanitation on February 5, 2016. Link to the official notice here. The rules outlined within were put into effect on August 1, 2016 and, after a year-long “warning period”, will be enforceable by law starting August 1, 2017.

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Recycling compliance 101: Follow these tips and you’ll be well on your way to recycling responsibly and in compliance with the law.

  1. Contract with a licensed carter that fits your needs and handles your specific waste materials. If you are a tenant in a building, and your building management handles waste, the easiest way to see if they’re doing it right is to think about how you manage waste in your own space. Are you separating recyclables into clearly labeled bins and using one of three options: source-separated collection, co-collection, or single-stream collection (more detail below)?
    • Your business must post a sign somewhere visible from outside the building that names your carter(s) and the materials they collect, as well as which method they are using for collection.
    • If you prefer to self-transport your recyclables – this is rare – register here.
    • Property owners and building management must notify tenants of their waste management policies annually.
  2. Set your customers and staff up for waste management success!
    • All receptacles should have clear labels and colors indicating a specific waste category
    • Recyclables must always be kept separate from garbage, both when they are being thrown into a bag at a waste bin, and when they are collected in a truck by your hauling company.
    • Posting clear signs for both staff and customers will help prevent contamination, which is a major problem in the recycling industry.

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Wait, can I recycle this?

There are two different recycling streams in NYC:

  1. Metal, Glass, Plastic, and Beverage Cartons: This stream includes…
    • Metal cans, aluminum foil, and other disposable foil containers (rinse your recyclables! They don’t need to be sparkling clean, but they shouldn’t make a mess in the recycling bin).
    • Glass jars & bottles – tops too! And while you’re at it, if you separate the top or lid from the container, it’ll have a better chance of being recycled properly.
    • Rigid plastics such as empty yogurt cups, empty plastic beverage bottles and tops, or empty food containers (rinsed out).
    • Mixed metal & plastic objects, such as plastic chairs with metal legs or filing cabinets (just check with your hauler and/or building management first, most buildings have “bulk” collection days when it’s best to bring this material to the curb)
    • Paper beverage cartons and juice boxes
  2. Paper. This stream includes:
    • Receipts
    • Mail
    • Notepads
    • Folders
    • Newspapers and magazines
    • Cardboard, such as boxes from packages or paper towel rolls

image6And here’s what cannot be recycled:

  • Non-rigid plastics such as plastic wrap*, empty chip bags and plastic shopping bags
  • Foam (expanded polystyrene, or EPS) products such as foam coffee cups or foam takeout containers
  • Soiled or coated paper, such as coffee filters (which can be composted!) or paper takeout containers (which are coated with wax to prevent leaking).
  • Food scraps (but of course, they can be composted!)
  • Large Furniture or mattresses

*If plastic wrap, (clear plastic film, like the Saran Wrap brand), is clean and dry, it CAN be recycled, but sometimes it must be collected separately from other recyclables. If your business produces lots of clean and dry wrap, we recommend that you contact your hauling company to discuss options for recycling it.

A couple extra things to note regarding…

  • TEXTILES: If textiles make up more than 10% of your business’s waste, you are required by law to recycle all fabric scraps, clothing, belts, bags, and shoes. For more information on this visit refashionNYC. We are also big fans of FabScrap, an organization dedicated to helping recycle commercial fabric scraps.
  • YARD OR PLANT WASTE: If yard or plant waste makes up more than 10% of your business’s waste, you are required to recycle it separately from other recyclables. This includes plant waste, grass clippings, garden debris, leaves, and branches.
  • ORGANICS: Certain large, food-waste generating business are required to separate their organics for composting. Much more on this here.

There are the three acceptable recycling systems for most* businesses:

  1. Source-Separated Recycling: As the name suggests, this system requires the business (source) to separate their three streams of waste (glass/metal/plastic recyclables, mixed paper, landfill garbage) for collection by three separate trucks.
  2. Co-Collection Recycling: Some haulers may be permitted to collect more than one type of recycling in a single truck. The business (the source) would still put mixed paper in one bag, and glass/metal/plastic in another, but the carter could legally put these two different recycling streams into the same truck for collection and transit to a recycling facility. In this case, buildings must post a sign indicating that co-collection is being used and the name of the authorized carter.
  3. Single-Stream Recycling (also referred to as “mixed recycling”): In this scenario the source (business) is only handling two waste streams – (recyclables & paper) and garbage – to be collected by two separate trucks. Glass/metal/plastic, and mixed paper go into the same bag, and are collected by a recycling truck.

*For businesses that produce +10% of their waste in textiles, yard waste, or organics, additional procedures are required.

In ALL cases, it is illegal for a hauling company to collect recyclable waste in the same truck as trash. If you see black trash bags in the same truck as clear or colored recycling bags, red flag! Something is amiss. (It’s true that trucks break down, or sometimes there’s a one-off collection that doesn’t go as planned, but if you see this consistently, you should give us a call.)

Why are there so many options? Does it really have to be this complicated? The main source of complication lies in the fact that recycling facilities and hauling companies are typically separate entities. Sometimes a recycling facility will have their own hauling operation, which results in better communication from source to plant and more accountability on the side of the haulers. Regardless, the City is moving towards a single-stream system, so in time, we’ll be seeing more “mixed recycling” and less “source separated recycling”, leaving the complicated stuff to the experts. Until then, the consumer still has to put in the leg work to ensure that their recycling is being properly processed. (Interested in seeing a dedicated post on Single-Stream Recycling, or anything else? Contact us!)

Consider this scenario: a business is set up with source-separated recycling, but they aren’t properly separating their recyclables into two different streams (mixed paper / plastic, metal, glass). Their mixed paper hauler picks up what looks to them like the mixed paper recycling bags and brings them to a recycling plant that processes mixed paper. That plant, which might not have the sorting technology to deal with glass, metal, and plastic, has to manually sort through these bags and might treat anything that’s not mixed paper as trash. In this scenario, more work has been created for the facility (or the hauler, depending on the relationship that exists between hauler and recycling facility), to sort the unacceptable items (an economic hardship), and many perfectly recyclable products might go to the landfill.

We have some good news, which is that new recycling facilities are putting specialized technology in place to separate lots of types of recyclables. We will be seeing more and more of these facilities in the future. For now, not all commercial hauling companies have relationships with these specialized facilities. The NYC Business Integrity Commission has a specific form for haulers to complete when they wish to collect Single Stream (mixed recycling) from commercial clients, which asks them to identify the destination (the specific recycling facility) for the recyclable materials. If you are unsure about your hauler’s Single Stream recycling process, the easiest thing to do is to ask if they have submitted this application to BIC.

Now get sorting!