History's Dustbin

Recycling cutbacks


To help narrow an ever-widening budget deficit, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has scaled back his city's curbside recycling program. On July 1 the city stopped collecting plastics and glass. Bloomberg says those collections won't resume until the city can figure out how to do so without hemorrhaging taxpayer cash. The recycling program has cost Big Apple taxpayers as much as half a billion dollars during the last decade.

Bloomberg had wanted to discontinue the collection of metals as well but ultimately compromised with city council members who wanted to increase the resources devoted to recycling. Led by Michael McMahon, several council members proposed that the city add a surcharge to bottles of noncarbonated drinks and start collecting unclaimed deposits, which beverage makers currently get to keep. The estimated $100 million a year generated by these changes would have gone to create a bureaucracy charged with finding a way to make recycling profitable.

New York Times columnist John Tierney, whose protracted war against recycling may have played some part in the mayor's decision to cut it back, slyly called the pro-recycling council members "politicians who do not run from trouble." Regarding the proposed bureaucracy, Tierney asked readers to "imagine what a…group of political hacks could do with a business that's unprofitable to begin with."

Previously the anti-recycling movement, which questions the cost-effectiveness of the practice, had caught on mostly in smaller cities and counties, such as Chattanooga, Tennessee. Now recycling activists worry that New York's change of heart might help spread the disenchantment to more-cosmopolitan areas.