info 05.16.12

Plastics 101
Recycling in NYC: A 5-Part Series
Poll: Ban the Plastic Bag?
Walking Off the Big Apple

Q: Are most used plastics in the U.S. recycled?
A: No, only 6.5% of total plastics are recycled.

Q: Why doesn't NYC recycle more (most) types of plastics?
A: Basically because there's no market for plastics with resin codes #3 through 7. The process is complicated, the results often not worth the energy or money expended, particularly as so much has to be downcycled. Plastic that can be recycled generally gets one extra use before going to the landfill.

Q: I heard that the City will be recycling more types of plastic. True?
A: The City will be accepting more types, once the new Materials Recovery Facility opens at the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal in the next year.

Q: So what's with the resin codes, anyway?
A: Well, if you want to really know, here's the American Chemistry Council chart. However, you don't want to know. They indicate the polymer type for the business-end of the recycling process—not you, the consumer.

Q: But the chasing arrows on the plastic means it's recyclable, right?
A: Sorry, no. Obviously they should mean that but they don't. It's a cruel world.

Q: Is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch for real?
A: If you're thinking of it as something like a land mass, no. It's not like that. The patches are real, though, and disasters for marine life. Some of the damage comes from entanglement (plastic bags), more from tiny pieces of plastic that sea creatures ingest. Read this report [PDF] from Greenpeace and you have to conclude that we seem like a very cruel world indeed.

Q: Would banning plastic bags help?
A: Yes, it would help. However: banning, or adding a surcharge to the use of plastic bags is fraught. In 2008, Mayor Bloomberg proposed a tax on shopping bags. Thanks, Christine Quinn, for killing that plan. Yes, Speaker Quinn and the City Council passed a bill requiring large retailers to accept shopping bags for recycling, though that's a meager victory for the environment, a definite win for the bag manufacturers who throw money and litigation against attempts across the country to ban or surcharge shopping bags. Even criticizing plastic bags will get companies like South Carolina's Hilex Poly into an existential rage. Still, the idea of banning plastic bags is spreading across the country.

Q: Would you support a ban or fee on plastic shopping bags?
A: Take our poll below and let us know.

Q: Any good news?
A: The best news would be if we all reduced our use of plastic. Meanwhile, a couple of interesting developments. A new recycling process for the polyethylene used in plastic bags. And last week, the UK opened a big facility that's being hailed as a breakthrough in mixed plastics recycling.

Comments? Head over to MUG's blog.

Part One of Recycling in NYC:
Wretched Refuse

Part Two of Recycling in NYC:
What Goes Where

Cultural and literary notes, plus self-guided walks, courtesy of Walking Off the Big Apple, a strolling guide to New York City.

News and Views from the Staten Island Ferry

Recent rides on the Staten Island Ferry, especially on good weather days, have been enjoyable as always, full of the usual sights of iconic landmarks and dazzling ships in the harbor. Even before the ferry left the dock, on every trip, passengers engaged in the same comforting routine. While visitors crowded the railings for pictures of the Statue of Liberty, commuting residents assumed their usual positions in the interior, yawning or pulling out a book. Adventurous types crowded the deck closest to the next docking, never minding their windblown hair. As everyone knows, most people riding the ferry from Manhattan to Staten Island get off the boat and immediately walk around for the ride back, this in spite of organized efforts to go forth and enjoy the bounties of Staten Island. Some people, and this includes me, just like being on a boat.

At this time of year, as spring leafs out into full-blown summer, the ferry experience is taken up a notch. Musicians of a high caliber have been entertaining waiting passengers. On a recent day, the crowd at the Whitehall Terminal listened to a couple of exceptional guitarists playing a cool jazz-rock fusion of original songs, while a self-described "cajun cellist" entertained in the St. George Terminal, including a haunting and rather memorable instrumental version of Leonard Cohen's overplayed "Hallelujah." Both sides of the harbor enjoyed brisk DVD sales.



Would you support a ban or additional fee on plastic bags?


Yes to a ban


Yes to a fee


Yes to a ban or a fee



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