NYC’s mayor wants “zero waste” by 2030.

Is it possible?

It’s hard to conceptualize six million tons, but let’s try.

One car weighs approximately two tons. Picture three million cars. Now replace those three million cars with trash. Got it? That’s how much residential and consumer waste New York City produces per year. Every New Yorker produces 15 pounds of waste at home per week and another nine pounds at commercial venues, most of which gets sent to landfills.

But New York Mayor Bill de Blasio has a vision: He wants the city and its residents to reduce that flow by 2030—to zero. “It will be a hard effort,” de Blasio said at the launch of his plan. “It’s going to take a lot of resources. It’s going to take a lot of public education. It’s going to take a lot of community organizing. But this is the way of the future if we’re going to save our earth.”

The staff of New York City Lens spent the last month exploring the state of the city’s trash—how we got here, where our city’s trash goes, how we recycle various parts of it, and how likely is it for us to reach the mayor’s goal of zero waste sent to landfills or out of town.

The mayor’s ambitious zero-waste-to-landfills initiative made its debut on April 22 as part of a multi-faceted plan for the city’s future called OneNYC. The overarching agenda is to produce safer neighborhoods, improved transportation, no more poverty, cleaner air, and better access to medical care.

In 2014, the city used out-of-city landfills to dump its trash, which costs $350 million per year and has negative effects on the environment. De Blasio wants to eliminate the city’s reliance on this operation and outlines eight steps to achieve this vision of a waste-free city. more >

Millions NYC spends on out-of-town landfills

Mayor de Blasio on zero waste

Hunts Point - April 22, 2015

Tons of waste per year

Pounds of waste per person per year

  • Food scraps, yard waste and soiled paper, which are non-recyclable 31%
  • Mixed paper, magazines, newspapers and cardboard 18%
  • Metal, glass, and all rigid plastics 14%
  • Plastic bags 2.3%
  • Textiles and used clothing 6%
  • Electronics > 1%

tons of polystyrene foam collected

tons of waste produced at schools

Trash Talk

The future of trash

2030 Goal: Is it Achievable?
Many experts praise de Blasio’s plan for its thoroughness and ambition. Others remain skeptical.

Trash Without a Truck
Roosevelt Island uses an Automated Vacuum Collection System to collect its trash.

The Composting Solution
100,000 homes are in the Organics Collection pilot which will expand to all of NYC by 2018.

Take my trash, please

On the Job: Truck’s Eye View
Hop inside a sanitation rig and meet the cheerful crew who make trash collecting look fun.

A Very Dangerous Job
Think police officers are more prone to line-of-duty injuries? Think again.

Junk Boats
Hundreds of abandoned vessels are left to rust, leak gasoline and sink in NYC’s waterways.

A behind-the-scenes view

A Cleaner Burn
NYC uses modern incinerators that turn trash into energy for homes and businesses.

The Trash Riviera
Dead Horse Bay is a beach built of trash and glitters with shards of glass, large and small.

New York’s Trashy Past
For centuries household waste would be left to rot in the streets along with decomposing animals.

Circular reimaginings

There’s Cash in Trash
Pierre Andre Simmons says digging for trash is good money for those with a can-do attitude.

Rubbish Reincarnate
Step inside NYC’s recycling work horse and learn how the Liberator sorts your trash.

E-cycle or Else
Dumping electronic waste became illegal January 1. Here’s an alternative.