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Do you remember the sixties? There was a lot of organizing done back then…. anti-war, social justice, women’s rights and more. The environmental movement was just a splinter of the great movement for change that was going on, and since then environmentalism has continued to splinter into countless causes, each with its own supporters. You can confirm this just by browsing through the DEC web site, for example, but it can be overwhelming. As a retired Schenectady art teacher who was active in the sixties, it seems to me that all the activists from those days have dealt with the situation by settling into comfortable social groups. After all, we can’t always be out there demonstrating. We need a life-style that includes like-minded people; our friends and personal contacts help us carry forward the values of working together for a better world. However, it you are retired, it is now time to get out there and give back, starting right here in Schenectady.

Just as friends and family meet a need for moral support and information sharing, so this local web site can support all the environmental work that is being done in and around Schenectady — and it is not only retired people who can serve. Help GreenUpSchenectady.org grow into a tool for improving the quality of life and the appearance of our local area. Writers needed! Comment here or become a contributor to the website by contacting me at 423-0564.

                                                                                                                               – John Watrous

Recycling

Recycling is the one of the easiest things you can do at home to help the environment. The more we recycle, the less landfills we need and the less we have to cut down forests for paper or mine the earth for minerals. Just follow the city’s guidelines for recycling: separate out your bottles, cans and papers. One of the great things about living in Schenectady is that we also collect e-waste like computers, and bulky items like hide-a-beds and white goods like refrigerators which are all picked up curbside for free — that is, after you pay your taxes of course! Just call the city at 382-5144 if you have a question. This information is also available on the city’s web page.

Solid waste comes in all shapes and forms. There is construction debris, clothing, scrap metal and hazardous materials like lead paint, insect spray, medicines, mercury light bulbs and batteries. Each type of waste, or “waste stream” needs to be handled in a different way. If you are asking how to properly dispose of these sorts of things, then you are what the Schenectady County calls a “super recycler”. You may need to find out when hazardous waste days are and sign up. To find out where almost anything can be recycled or reused, the best place to start looking is the Schenectady County web site.  Happy hunting!

 If you would like to help promote recycling in Schenectady,contact John Watrous at watrous.john@gmail.com orm go to SchenectadyRecycles.org.

Many people wonder where all this recycling stuff goes and what is made from it. GreenUpSchenectady.org has an online directory for further reading and research that should satisfy your curiosity. The recycling world is an trillion dollar economy and growing all the time. Much of the material goes to manufacturing in China or third world countries. However, what many people don’t often realize is that Schenectady sewage and unrecycled trash goes waste-to-energy facilities, supplying methane for electric power generation

Incentivize Recycling in Schenectady

Motivation

One good idea for increasing the recycling rate is to incentivize recycling. At the “Trash Talk” forum sponsored by the Schenectady County Environmental Advisory Council on November 18, 2013, it was revealed that the recycling rate in Schenectady County has fallen to 8%,[1] and the rate in some neighborhoods is apparently much lower. Compare this to a 34% national average or the 65% average of a state like California[2] and you see the problem. In March of 2013, volunteers from ECOS, the League of Women Voters and SCEAC formed SchenectadyRecycles! These environmentalists are seeking the answer to one question: How can we persuaded the better part of 66,000 people (the population of the City of Schenectady) to participate more fully in the City’s recycling program? The familiar “save the earth” message certainly appeals to the general good will of people, but after 40 years (the first Earth Day was in 1970) it still hasn’t apparently had much effect in the poorer neighborhoods. Neither has the idea of promoting recycling as a social norm. A recent observation on pick-up day revealed that only one in twenty are recycling in some neighborhoods of Schenectady. There is a fiscal consequence to this – Schenectady pays nearly two million dollars a year in “tipping fees” at the landfill. But this does not directly affect the citizens of the inner city who are mostly tenants. Environmentalists need to think clearly about how to appeal to people who may have different values from their own. A small portion of the population may do what is asked simply because it is the right thing to do, but a much larger portion will do the right thing only if the benefit to themselves is obvious. Recycling is a behavior[3], and as such it can be taught with appropriate instruction, incentives and disincentives. People can feel good about helping the environment once they have gotten into the recycling habit.

Instruction

The City of Schenectady’s Mandatory Recycling Law requires the City to “provide education to all generators of solid waste in the City on how to reduce solid waste generation, and how to properly prepare materials for source separation” (161-2, part 6 of the Codebook).[4] Public education has been the main goal of SchenectadyRecycles! since it formed in 2013. This is a small group of activists engaging in a grass roots campaign, beginning with the Woodlawn Neighborhood and reaching out to all other neighborhood associations and civic groups. SchenectadyRecycles! has already produced a reformatted set of recycling instructions which are available in both English and Spanish.

Teaching an appreciation for how household containers and paper become new industrial products is a goal of public education. There is a lot of expense involved in transporting and preparing recycled materials and sorting out the trash at home is what makes it all work economically. In the City of Schenectady, we separate papers from food containers. All glass containers, cans and high grade plastic containers are put into one bin and newspapers are put into another.  The waste collection practices of the City of Schenectady are an adaptation to the situation on the street, the market for various recyclables, our trucks and labor force. The City can get more money for cleanly sorted recyclables, whereas relatively unsorted “single stream” recyclables are less valuable. At the Trash Talk Forum, Dan Kurtz, General Mangager of Siera Processing, said that cities can recycle 30% by using single stream. The economy comes not only from the money the City gets from selling recyclables, but also from saving $50/ton tipping fee at the landfill. Furthermore, household container and paper product is only 1/20th of overall solid waste.[5] But, as Mayor McCarthy says,  people who don’t recycle are costing the City money. [6]

In seeking ways of increasing the recycling rate, there is room for research and creativity. First, we need to appreciate the diverse population and housing conditions in Schenectady. For example, to get around language barriers, we might use pictographs to convey the information on the recycling stickers. Also, the public will need prompts and reminders. The City might consider advertising and promotion to supplement the grassroots work. The City does have $30,000 for education materials (line item A8163 474 in the budget).

It is often said that the City’s ordinance with regard to residential recycling is unenforceable and that fines are politically too unpopular. If this is the case, Schenectady needs to consider other ways of draw people’s attention to the problem. In this city, landlords are the ones responsible for recycling, not the tenants. SchenectadyRecycles! is in a good position to go to landlord association meetings to respectfully reminded them of their duty and make suggestions as to how to gain the cooperation of the tenants. At the same time the City could begin chipping away at the landlord indifference by contacting individual landlords and reminding them to provide recycling bins and instruction to their tenants. You might call this a strategy of nagging but it would certainly keep the issue before those who might wish to avoid it.

Disincentives

In the end, however, Schenectady may find that mere words are not enough. What is needed is a consequence built right into the waste collection process. At the Trash Talk Forum, Jeff Edwards, a planner with the Schenectady County Department of Economic Development and Planning, reported on a “pay-as-you-throw” program that has worked in other cities. In this program,  the City shares its pain. Residents are required to put all non-recyclables in specially colored trash bags — bags available only from the City at a price calculated to offset the tipping fee at the landfill. Thus, residents will recycle more to reduce the cost of putting out quantities of trash.

Incentives

However, incentives are always much more pleasant to administer. They don’t have to be large, but the incentives just need to be significant and dependable. But, how can we identify those who are recycling? A recycler identification program could run on radio frequency identification (RFID) technology, such the EzPass system, or a scanner technology such as that used at many check-out counters. Recycler identification technology is being used in cities across the country.[7]  It works like this: a resident gets a coded sticker for their recycling bin and signs up for an account.  This is all voluntary. When their recycling bin is emptied into the truck on trash pick-up day, the sticker is identified by a scanner. Data is collected and a credit is recorded in the user’s account. This account, and the record of recycling credits, can be accessed securely by password over the internet at any time. After a certain record of recycling is achieved by the resident, a monetary incentive is credited to the account. The program could be funded by the trash hauling fee or from savings at the landfill. Other savings can be achieved as well. In Hattiesburg, Mississippi, the ability to monitor truck routes resulted in a 20% efficiency increase, enabling the city to go to a four day work week for the trash pick-up crew — but but they managed it in such a way as no one lost their job.[8]

A recycler identification program provides a transparent and accurate way of recognizing people who recycle, and it also provides a great metric for changes in recycling habits. At present, Schenectady measures its success by weight. This data is compared year-over-year with population to show a “pounds per person” increase or decrease.  With a recycler identification program, close to real-time feedback is available on who is recycling, whether it be by pick-up zone or street, right on down to the individual user. This type of data is very useful in evaluating grant results and education initiatives. A recycler identification program can also provide a way around the landlord/tenant divide. Currently, landlords are the responsible party. However, there is a high percentage of non-compliant and absentee landlords in Schenectady. With RFID, the tenant — even a teenager — can own an account and receive the reward. If a tenant moves, the account goes with them. Best of all for SchenectadyRecycles, such a program would give recycling promoters something really positive to talk about. Consider the message we have today: “Any property owner who does not separate their recyclable materials from their waste shall receive a fine not to exceed $50 for each offense.” Now, listen to the recycler identification program message: “Earn recycling credits at home and see the rewards!” Schenectady might introduce registration in combination with low-cost recycling bins and instruction. A pilot  project could provide a low-risk way to “test market” the system. A full scale roll-out could be implemented without changing any of the current recycling instructions or the means of collection.

An incentive program can gradually influence an entire population to begin recycling. The important thing to remember is that for maximum effect, instruction needs to be followed by reinforcement.

– by John Watrous

Further reading about recycler identification, check out this article from “Waste360

________________________________________________________________________________________________

Recycling Rates by Neighborhood

I collected the following data by direct observation of how many people put out recycle bins on the streets and collection days indicated.

NISKAYUNA

 

Niskayuna observations all done on 11/1/2013

Residents

Not Recycling

Recyclers

Percent Compliance

Regent Street

20.0

2

18.0

90.0

Myron Street

26.0

2

24.0

92.3

Dean Street

46.0

10

36.0

78.3

Nelson Street

17.0

0

17.0

100.0

St. Ann/Angelina

13.0

0

13.0

100.0

Fox Hollow

21.0

3

18.0

85.7

Sandra/Goodfrey

15.0

3

12.0

80.0

Mohegan

9.0

1

8.0

88.9

Stuyvesant – Northumberland

46.0

4

42.0

91.3

Hutchington/Durham/Downing

23.0

7

16.0

69.6

Pearse

29.0

3

26.0

89.7

Avon Crest North

18.0

3

15.0

83.3

Rosendale

57.0

7

50.0

87.7

CountryClub

47.0

7

40.0

85.1

     Totals

387.0

335.0

     Average Percent

87.3

WOODLAWN – West

Large Furniture

Becker Street 10/23/2013

61.0

5.0

8.2

       “            10/30/2013

56.0

3

5.0

8.9

     Average

8.6

WOODLAWN – East

Bradford St.   10/23/2013

58.0

21.0

36.2

Bradford St.  10/30/13

48.0

1

16.0

33.3

     Average

34.8

HAMILTON HILL

Albany Street 10/30/2013

55.0

4

3.0

5.5

Hamilton/Delmont 10/24

60.0

6

3.0

5.0

          “                10/30

59.0

3.0

5.1

Howard Street 10/24/2013

34.0

3

2.0

5.9

     Average

5.4

MONTPLEASANT

Main Ave. 10/23/2013

20.0

1

4.0

25.0

      “        10/31/2013

18.0

6.0

33.0

     Average

29.0

 


[1] “State of the Environment / Schenectady County, New York / 2011-2012,” p. 20. Also, see the data sheet at the end of this paper.

[2] “Municipal Solid Waste in the United States – 2009 Facts and Figures” . United States Environmental Protection Agency. p. 16.          <http://www.epa.gov/wastes/nonhaz/municipal/pubs/msw2009rpt.pdf>

[3] “Recycling is a behavior” by Dan Leif. Resource Recycling magazine, Oct. 2013.

[4] The City did run a 3-year public education program call “Recyclution” ended in 2012.

[5] City of Schenectady metrics. <http://www.cityofschenectady.com/Metrics/publicworks.htm>

[6] “Proposed Schenectady city budget has small tax hike”, Gazette. 10/1/2013 <http://www.dailygazette.com/news/2013/oct/01/1001_citybud/>

[7] RFID Journal<https://www.rfidjournal.com/purchase-access?type=Article&id=8835&r=%2Farticles%2Fview%3F8835>

 [8] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zLU2IjLbDJs