A Look At New York City & its History of Waste Disposal & Recycling

Let’s take a look at our cousins across the pond in New York City, and delve into their history of waste disposal and recycling.


New York City or NYC is a city of 5 boroughs and has a population of over 8 million people who all live within an area smaller in size than many US states. With this in mind, try to picture just how much waste is produced on a daily basis.


Recycling in New York City is compulsory and has been since July 1989. Before that date, beginning in 1986, recycling was voluntary and as it began to catch on, recycling-educating products which ranged from simple pamphlets to TV and newspaper ads flooded the area up until 1997, when all five boroughs and all 59 districts were recycling many different products. By this time real progress was being made in recycling waste right up until the events of September 11th, 2001. Unfortunately, the 9/11 tragedy forced budget cuts to be implemented for the Department of Sanitation.

It's difficult to imagine that a city as inhabited as New York City has constantly been, that it took until 1881 for the very first sanitation collection agency to be formed. In 1881, the Department of Street Cleaning was formed and the New York City Police Department was no longer accountable for the waste issues.


Prior to the formation of the Department of Sanitation, more than 3 quarters of all waste from the city of New York was just disposed of into the ocean. Just a decade later, in 1895, the very first recycling plan was implemented by Commissioner George Waring in which his plan separated home waste into 3 categories; there was food waste, rubbish and ash.


The only classification of the three that could not be re-used was ash, and it and whatever products originated from the rubbish classification that might not be re-used were taken to landfills. Food waste, which went through a process of being steamed, they found, could be become fertilizer and grease materials that were used to produce soap. The category of rubbish was gathered and re-used whenever possible and only as a last option would it end up in the landfills.


New York City had filled to capacity 6 landfills and needed to keep them closed from 1965 to 1991, which left only one active garbage dump; Fresh Kills in Staten Island, which remained the only trash-accepting land fill until its permanent closure in 2001.


Aside from the temporary suspension of recycling due to World War I in 1918, New York City has actually kept a stable circulation of recycling going for more than a century and at one time ran twenty two incinerators and eighty nine landfills.


Recycling continues today in New York City as a mandatory action for all citizens, schools, institutions, agencies and all industrial businesses. As well as government backed and funded waste disposal, there are many private waste clearance companies operating within New York City today, with the disposal of junk and other waste being big business there.