As one of the largest cities in the world, it’s probably not surprising to know that New York accumulates more trash than any other city by far, producing 33 million tons of garbage per year, of which 663,600 tons are recovered for recycling. In preparation for the closure of the Fresh Kills landfill in Staten Island, in 2006 the city developed a Solid Waste Management Plan (or SWMP, affectionately known as the “swamp”), which aimed to reduce the amount of refuse sent to landfills by recycling more, which required creating a guaranteed channel for the seemingly endless river of metal, glass, plastic and paper produced by New Yorkers.

“One thing New York has going for it, more than anything else, is that it has volume. Over the past 30 years, we have collected 13 million tons of recyclable material,” says Bridget Anderson, head of the  Bureau of Recycling and Sustainability for the Department of Sanitation (DSNY). “Also, in the early years of New York recycling, we had relatively short-term contracts and we were more subject to the ups and downs of the market as well as the capacity of the vendors. So when we developed the Solid Waste Management Plan, we were obligated as a city to come up with a long -term contract for recyclables. In the end, it made us more stable and helped the city and the vendors weather the storm as it wouldn’t have otherwise.”

Most of the city’s metal, glass, and plastic recyclables and 50 percent of its paper end up at Sims Municipal Recycling plants in Sunset Park, Brooklyn or New Jersey. The other 50 percent of the city’s paper waste is transferred to Pratt Industries’ paper mill on Staten Island, were much of the city’s waste paper is recycled into pizza boxes. Together,  Sims’ New Jersey plant and its Brooklyn plant, which claims to be the largest recycling plant in North America, is responsible for processing 500,000 tons of the city’s recyclable material a year.

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