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Major NYC Businesses Cut Waste 50% — But Can They Achieve Zero Waste by 2030?

landfillDozens of major companies including ABC Disney, Whole Foods and Anheuser-Busch with offices in New York City have diverted at least half of their waste from landfills and incineration, responding to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s zero waste by 2030 challenge.

The 31 business participants collectively diverted 36,910 tons of waste by increasing recycling, composting more than 24,500 tons of organic material and donating 322 tons of food, according to the mayor’s office.

De Blasio announced the Zero Waste Challenge earlier this year, calling on 31 businesses in New York to reduce their waste by 50 percent by mid-June. While the goal was to halve their waste, some businesses did more than that. Anheuser-Busch, Natural Resource Defense Council and Viacom were among the 12 businesses that achieved at least 75 percent diversion while two — D’Arrigo Bros. of New York and Durst Organization — diverted 95 percent of their waste.

Dig Inn reached 75 percent waste diversion, keeping more than 956 tons of material out of landfills and incinerators during the four-month challenge.

“We did this by looking at where waste occurs at every level of the food chain,” the restaurant’s sustainability coordinator Taylor Lanzet told Environmental Leader. This included composting veggies and other organic waste, training chefs to plan ahead and not produce more food than needed after the lunch rush, and implementing an end-of day food donation program with an organization called Rescuing Leftover Cuisine.

The Zero Waste Challenge is part of De Blasio’s larger sustainability initiative, called OneNYC. Among other environmental and social efforts, the plan targets zero waste to landfill by 2030. It says New York will achieve these waste management goals in part by offering single-stream recycling by 2020 and reducing the use of plastic bags and other non-compostable waste.

It’s not going to be an easy task. City businesses and residents send 4 million tons of waste to landfill every year and almost a third of that is food waste.

One recent report says it’s an impossible task.

On Sunday, a day before De Blasio’s office announced the results of the Zero Waste Challenge, Crain’s New York Business published a report criticizing the mayor’s plan. It says high recycling collection costs, low recycling rates — Crain’s reports NYC businesses only recycle about 19 percent of their waste — and cumbersome waste management regulations present major obstacles. “Anyone who knows anything about waste in New York seems to agree: Keeping it all out of landfills by 2030 isn’t just ambitious, it’s pretty much impossible,” the article says.

The report also quotes Kendall Christiansen, manager of the New York City chapter of the National Waste & Recycling Association. “This zero-waste idea seems to be without any real plan behind it,” Christiansen said. “Other cities, like Austin and Calgary, went through a very deliberate process of developing a detailed set of goals and plans to achieve them. New York’s plan has been pretty loose, without much public discussion, just rhetoric.”

Raul Contreras, a spokesman for City Hall, told Environmental Leader that calling zero waste an impossible task is, well, garbage.

“In New York City, we have seen a 15 percent decrease in the amount of unnecessary waste generated in the last decade” Contreras said. “In FY16, recycling rates increased more than at any point in the last 10 years. All of this means that New York City has seen an overall decline in the amount of waste going to landfill. We never said this would be easy, but it can be done — and we’re making progress. This is one of the reasons we put out new contracts, so that we can realize our goal more efficiently and effectively.”

The city is reviewing a plan to divide New York into zones and have private haulers compete for longer contracts, currently capped at two years.

It’s not an impossible task — but it will require a big effort on all New York businesses’ parts, Lanzet said.

“It’s going to require a lot of different actors,” she said. “It’s waste management companies setting up better systems, it’s working with city government, it’s restaurants and retailers getting involved.”

It will also involve more sustainable packaging efforts to reuse and recycle packaging, Lanzet added. “[Zero waste] is possible and it takes transformation. It’s an overhaul of our packaging and waste management systems, which are outdated to begin with.”

Waste and recycling technology company Recycle Track Systems (RTS) was a participating vendor in the Zero Waste Challenge that supported Whole Foods Market in reducing its waste by 50 percent.

Through on-site education programs with departmental teams, RTS helped Whole Foods Market increase its diversion rate by nearly 10 percent over the course of the challenge, which started in February.

“At RTS, our on-demand services for waste removal and recycling have been designed to aid a broader initiative of reducing waste around the city and eventually the world,” said RTS CEO Greg Lettieri in a statement. “Our proprietary technology is helping our customers and haulers be more efficient. That ultimately reduces waste over the long-term.”

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One thought on “Major NYC Businesses Cut Waste 50% — But Can They Achieve Zero Waste by 2030?

  1. I applaud this leadership by the Mayor and agree that it is definitely possible. Thousands of businesses around the world are leading the way to Zero Waste, already diverting over 90% of their discards from landfill, incinerators and the environment. The U.S. Zero Waste Business Council certifies facilities as meeting international Zero Waste standards and has documented many successes already. Major cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles have adopted Zero Waste goals and already achieved over 70% waste diversion. USEPA has great planning tools to help cities get to Zero Waste, including “Managing and Transforming Waste Streams” at epa.gov. Zero Waste USA is providing training to help cities get to Zero Waste. Most of the leading solid waste organizations in the world are supporting the move to Zero Waste, a circular economy and improved Resource Efficiency. Bravo to New York City for providing this leadership!

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