NYC recycling rollback may have national repercussions

New Yorkers are being asked to forget about separating out glass bottles and milk cartons from regular trash – the first significant rollback of a recycling program in the nation.

Starting Monday, sanitation workers were to collect only paper and metal for recycling. Glass and plastics, which previously were recycled, were to be mixed in with ordinary trash.

"It's unprecedented," said Laura Haight, of the New York Public Interest Research Group. "No other big cities have taken a step back like this and I'm not even familiar with any smaller cities taking out elements of their recycling programs."

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the change will save the deficit-ridden city $40 million in the coming fiscal year. Critics said it will cause widespread confusion and dirty streets, and will threaten the future of a program that took more than a decade to establish.

Recycling of plastics is being suspended for one year and recycling of glass is being suspended for two years while the city examines whether its inefficient, labor-intensive recycling program can be more cost-effective.

"Our commitment to recycling is just as strong as ever. We're just trying to be practical," Mr. Bloomberg said last week.

City Councilman Michael McMahon, head of the committee on sanitation and solid waste, said the change was foolhardy. Trash and recyclables that aren't properly sorted will not be collected.

"People are going to put out the trash and it's not going to be picked up and they're going to be angry. It's going to cause buildups of trash and overall chaos," he said.

The move comes with no publicity campaign to inform residents of the change. The mayor and sanitation commissioner said that because the budget was passed only about a week ago, they simply haven't had time to put out fliers on the changes, although they plan to do so.

Vicente Alba, of Local 108, a union representing workers in the private recycling industry, said the new rules will cost more than 200 of the city's 1,000 private recycling jobs.

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