NYC's recycling program exists to efficiently collect recyclables from residences, schools, institutions, and agencies and to ensure the most convenient curbside service from the NYC Department of Sanitation.
The cost of that service is offset by the recyclables collected. As those recyclables diminish through scavenging, the offsets are lost. Widespread scavenging leads to increases in NYC's collection and processing costs because city recycling trucks aren't filling up and the city's recycling vendors aren't receiving the valuable materials they expected.
Nobody wants to be perceived of as picking on the "little guy" but the lone scavenger is now a well-organized sophisticated mob of scavenger collectives that systematically removes valuable recyclables prior to the arrival of taxpayer-funded municipal recycling trucks. And many building entrepreneurs now opt to sell what is of value in their waste stream and leave the worthless and costly-to-collect rest for the Department of Sanitation.
It cannot be forgotten that NYC hires a unionized workforce to reliably and consistently collect recyclables set out at the curb and deliver those recyclables to contracted vendors that similarly employ a well-paid workforce with benefits to process those same recyclables.
When recyclables are illegally siphoned from this system by the activities of scavengers, these jobs—and the infrastructure needed to maintain them—are, and will increasingly be, in jeopardy.
feb 2012 article in resource recycling (pdf)
what happens to recyclables
frequently asked questions
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