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NRDC's Trip to New York City's Sunset Park Material Recovery Facility

Jane Schuldiner

Posted June 24, 2014

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It is my hope that most people, after drinking a can of soda, will take that can and throw it into the recycling bin, not the trash can.  We recycle because, in New York City, we have the available infrastructure, and of course, because it’s good for the planet — it reduces global warming pollution from manufacturing, landfilling and incinerating.  It’s also good for the economy — recycling is a $65 billion industry employing more than 50,000 men and women across North America. 

Before 1970, there were 0 curbside recycling programs, and as of today we have over 8,600 unique curbside recycling programs in the U.S.  This made me wonder about the curbside recycling here in NYC — where does it go and what happens when it gets there?

One facility where NYC recycling goes is the Sunset Park Material Recovery Facility (MRF), which serves as the anchor for curbside recycling here in NYC.  Last week, some members of the NRDC NY team were lucky enough to tour the state-of-the-art facility in Brooklyn, operated by Sims Municipal Recycling.  This 11-acre recycling facility is truly unique because of its sustainable building design, which includes a 600 kW photovoltaic (solar power) installation, and buildings made predominantly from recycled steel.  The design also includes protections against sea level rise and storm surges — the buildings, wharf, recycling equipment, and electrical substations were all raised 4’ in order to keep them from being damaged.  This massive MRF processes between 300 and 400 tons of materials, per day!  Approximately 450 tons of materials are received at the facility daily, and once materials are bailed they leave the facility via rail, barge and truck. 


Sunset Park MRF also has an education center which provides a plethora of information on what materials are recycled there, and how. For a quick and basic crash course on what happens to a bottle after recycling, check out this video from Sims, which explains how a bottle can be recycled and back on the market in as little as 30 days. 

So, back to that aluminum can of soda … did you know that every three months, Americans throw away enough aluminum to rebuild the entire US commercial air fleet?  Or that it takes the same amount of energy to produce 20 recycled aluminum cans as it does to produce just one new aluminum can?  Each can counts! Don’t make waste — be sure to recycle your recyclables and if you need a refresher on what can and can’t be recycled through NYC’s curbside recycling program, please check out this link


Photo by Mark A. Izeman, used with permission.

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