On April 24, Mayor Bloomberg of New York City made a surprise announcement that the city would immediately begin to accept all rigid plastics for recycling. Rigid plastics include virtually everything except plastic bags and cling-wrap.
Plastics are created from petroleum oil, and the drilling to extract this raw material is one of the most expensive, energy-intensive, and polluting industries of all time. As societies around the world try to limit their reliance on oil, cut costs and pollute less, repurposing the plastics we’ve already created is becoming more and more important.
Before this announcement, the only plastics that NYC was willing to accept from their residential programs were bottles. Diverting so many additional plastics from landfills is expected to save taxpayers $600,000 a year in export fees and prevent more than 50,000 tons of waste from going to landfills.
It’s important to prevent as much material from ending up in landfills as possible because landfills are public health hazards, a waste of resources and release greenhouse gases. Carbon dioxide, methane, volatile organic compounds and hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) have all been known to come off landfills.
HAP exposure can result in cancer, respiratory irritation and damage to the central nervous system. As one would imagine, this means that proposals for new landfill sites will inevitably come under massive scrutiny by local residents.
Since our current landfills will not last forever (a typical estimate is between 30-50 years), and new areas are difficult to come by, it’s a no-brainer for cities to try and divert as much material from current landfills as possible. Expanding the plastics recycling program will not only increase diversion rates, but also create new jobs at recycling facilities and use less energy to manufacture new products.