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Pie Charts: What's in NYC's Waste?

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link to: waste characterization studyUPDATE: NYC is currently undertaking a new residential waste characterization study. The results and analysis below reflect the waste landscape in 2004-05.

These pie charts provide summaries of what we found in residential and street basket waste, as a result of sorting and weighing its contents during the 2004-05 NYC Residential and Street Basket Waste Characterization Study.

refuse
paper recycling
mgp recycling
waste (refuse + recycling)
street basket waste

In each pie chart, 91 material categories are grouped to answer some of the more common questions that people have about trash and recycling.

There are countless ways to group categories to answer specific questions. These pie charts present just one view of the WCS results. We encourage you to look at the detailed results here and create your own summaries if you have different questions. To start, consult the Guide to the Tables (pdf) in the WCS Results Highlights.

ALSO SEE:
what is the waste characterization study?
wcs study results
organics in nyc's waste


Residential Refuse

This pie chart shows the average composition of NYC's residential refuse, also known as garbage or trash. It shows the contents of the garbage cans and bags that DSNY collects at the curb.

2004-05 NYC Waste Characterization Study
annualized composition of
Residential Refuse

refuse pie chart

As shown in the chart, around 23% of NYC trash consists of materials that are designated for recycling. These are items that residents should have put in the recycling bin, but didn't, including (green slice) recyclable paper and cardboard; and (blue slices) glass containers; metal cans, foil and other household metal; plastic bottles and jugs; and beverage cartons. That’s a lot of recyclable material needlessly being thrown out!

Organic materials suitable for source-separated composting are about a third of refuse, including paper that is not suitable for recycling (tissues, napkins, etc.), food scraps, and yard trimmings (peach, brown, maroon slices). In theory, these could be composted. The question is the logistics and feasibility of how to collect these materials for composting, and where to compost them. For discussion of the possibilities for composting NYC's waste, see organics in the NYC waste stream.

A surprisingly large fraction of our disposal consists of textiles and carpets (yellow slice). Clothing, linens, shoes, and accessories account for 5.5%, with carpets and rugs making up a little over 1.5%. As a result of these findings, DSNY BWPRR has been actively promoting used textile donation, and researching methods to recycle old carpets.

Construction and demolition (C&D) debris is another surprisingly large fraction of refuse (light grey slice), consisting of wood, brick, rocks, wall board, and other materials left at the curb after building remodeling. Only residents doing their own small construction or demolition projects are allowed to set C&D out as refuse; all others, including large-scale residential jobs and commercial generators, must pay to have their C&D removed by a private carter.

Very little refuse consists of household hazardous products or electronics (orange and red slices). Together, these comprise only 1% of disposal.

Plastics that are not designated for curbside recycling (including containers, packaging, and durable products) are a very large fraction of what New Yorkers throw away (purple slice). As of the time of this study, the only plastics with viable recycling markets are bottles and jugs. Learn all about plastics.

The rest of the pie (dark grey slice) consists of miscellaneous organic materials like diapers and hygiene products, animal wastes, plate glass, ceramics, rubber, and other mixed-material items that are very hard to recycle or compost.

SUMMARY OF MATERIAL GROUPS IN
REFUSE

paper, metal, glass, beverage cartons, and plastic materials
designated for curbside recycling (improperly disposed in refuse)

23%

organic materials
suitable for source-separated composting

34%

textiles and carpets

7%

construction and demolition debris (C&D)

6%

all other materials

30%

Notes: All results are calculated from the 2004/05 Residential/Street Basket WCS. Some percentages may not add up to totals due to rounding. Further details on each category can be found in the WCS Results.

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Residential Paper Recycling

New Yorkers are required to recycle paper including newspaper, corrugated cardboard, and mixed paper (such as office paper, junk mail, phone books, paper backs, magazines, and colored paper), all together in the same recycling bin or clear bag.

2004-05 NYC Waste Characterization Study
annualized composition of
Residential Paper Recycling

 pie chart: composition of paper recycling

The piechart shows that most of what goes into the paper recycling bin or bag is correctly recycled; almost 95% of paper recycling set out consist of materials DSNY asks residents to recycle. The remainder, a little over 5%, consists of a range of materials in small quantities.

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Residential Metal/Glass/Plastic/Beverage Carton Recycling
(Commingled)

For almost twenty years, New Yorkers have been required to recycle all types of metal, glass bottles and jars, plastic bottles and jugs, and beverage cartons in one commingled setout. The piechart shows what this commingled mix consists of.

2004-05 NYC Waste Characterization Study
annualized composition of
Residential MGP Recycling
(Beverage Cartons, Bottles, Cans, Metal, and Foil)

pie chart: residential mgp

Different alloys of metal (dark blue slices) make up a total of 33% of commingled collections, including cans and other types of metal. Plastic bottles and jugs make up nearly 13% of collections (bright blue slices). Beverage cartons account for about 2% (medium blue slice), while glass bottles and jars are 33% (pale blue slice).

Everything else, totaling 20% (black slice) consists of materials that do not belong in the blue-labeled bin or bag, called "contamination".

Out of this total 20% contamination, much is plastic that is not designated for recycling under the curbside program, which New Yorkers mistakenly put in their recycling bin. As with waste in general, very little of the incorrect plastics are (purple slices) numbered containers. Most of the incorrect plastics consist of non-numbered containers and plastic durables (light grey slice). Plastic wraps and bags, including recycling bags properly used to set out recyclables, are shown in the dark grey slice, while plastic shopping bags are shown in the cream-colored slice. (Learn all about plastics.)

Some residents are also throwing recyclable paper in with their commingled metal, glass bottles and jars, plastic bottles and jugs, and beverage cartons (green slice). The remainder of incorrect materials is shown in the black slice.

SUMMARY OF MATERIAL GROUPS IN
METAL/GLASS/PLASTIC/BEVERAGE CARTON RECYCLING

metal cans, foil, and other metal items

32.5%

glass containers

32.5%

plastic bottles and jugs

13%

beverage cartons

2%

all other materials

20%

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Residential Waste

Another way to look at waste is in terms of what New Yorkers discard: the sum total of everything they either throw in the trash or put in the curbside recycling bin or bag. This piechart uses the same categories as the Refuse piechart uses to show us the major types of materials found in discards.

2004-05 NYC Waste Characterization Study
annualized composition of
Residential Waste

piechart: waste (refuse + recycling) composition

The first major finding is that around 35% of everything discarded by NYC residents consists of materials that residents are required to recycle, including paper and cardboard (green slice); metal cans and other metal items (dark blue slice), glass containers (shown light blue slice), beverage cartons (medium blue slice), and plastic bottles and jugs (bright blue slice).

This finding tells us the theoretical maximum curbside recycling rate. If every New Yorker recycled every scrap properly, the recycling rate could never rise above around 35%.

In reality, New Yorkers only put about half of everything they could recycle in the recycling bin. Our recycling rate, which fluctuates between 16% and 18%, reflects this. This rate needs improvement, but is not substantially lower than in other cities, and is typical of urban areas where multi-unit apartment buildings predominate.

Organic materials make up the majority of discarded materials in total. Organic wastes such as food, yard trimmings, and other types of paper not suitable for recycling (peach slice) add up to 28% of all waste.

Results for other materials mirror those for Refuse, showing a lot of textiles and carpets (yellow slice), and construction and demolition debris (grey slice) in overall waste, but little household hazardous waste or electronics. Plastics not designated for recycling under the curbside program stand out as a large fraction of waste (lavender slice), deserving a closer look.

SUMMARY OF MATERIAL GROUPS IN
WASTE

paper, metal, glass, beverage cartons, and plastic materials
designated for curbside recycling (improperly disposed in refuse)

35%

organic materials
suitable for source-separated composting

28%

textiles and carpets

6%

construction and demolition debris (C&D)

5%

all other materials

26%

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Street Basket Waste

Street basket waste is quite small in comparison to residential waste. For every one pound of street basket waste collected, the Department of Sanitation collects almost 38 pounds of residential waste (refuse and recycling).

Nonetheless, street baskets are highly visible to people who live, work, and visit New York City, and they require labor and energy to manage, and so it is important to examine what is discarded in street baskets.

Street basket waste was analyzed in the WCS using the same 91 material categories that were used to characterize residential waste.

2004-05 NYC Waste Characterization Study
annualized composition of
Street Basket Waste

pie chart: street basket waste

This piechart uses different groupings to summarize the results of the WCS Street Basket study. These groupings reflect what we expect to find more often in street baskets, including beverage cans and bottles (lighter blue slices); newspaper (green slice); single use paper/plastic cups, plates, and cutlery (yellow slices); and animal wastes (solid black slice).

Surprisingly, what many people perceive as big problems in outdoor trash — disposable cups, plates, cans, bottles, and other foodware associated with eating on the go — is not the majority of street basket wastes, totaling only 3.1% of discards.

Also surprising is that the total baseline percentage of designated recyclables — paper and cardboard; and metal, glass bottles/jars, plastic bottles/jugs, and beverage cartons — is over ten percentage points higher in the street basket waste stream than in the residential waste stream. A full 47% of street basket wastes could be recycled under DSNY's curbside recycling program. This finding informed the development of the Public Space Recycling Pilot.

"Everything Else" (lightest grey slice) is broken down as follows:
9.67% Other Organics
5.24% Non-Recyclable Paper
4.28% Other C & D Debris
3.08% Textiles
1.20% Untreated Dimension Lumber/Pallets/Crates
1.18% Other Plastic Products
.85% Miscellaneous Inorganics/Household Hazardous Waste
.51% Electronics/Audio-Visual
.17% Other Glass

The WCS was conducted before the Public Space Recycling program began. As of 2010, there are almost 300 public space recycling bins throughout the city. The contents of these bins are not included in this piechart.

SUMMARY OF MATERIAL GROUPS IN
STREET BASKETS

paper, metal, glass, beverage cartons, and plastic materials
designated for residential recycling (improperly disposed in refuse)

47%

single use items

3%

food wastes

14%

other plastic packaging, wraps, and bags

8%

animal wastes

2%

everything else

26%

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