NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - New York could regain its status as a leader in recycling if new proposals to expand the city's green efforts are passed, experts said.
The city's once ambitious recycling plans have fallen behind because of economic belt-tightening, but new proposals that would extend recycling would put the city on track with other urban areas in the United States.
"It might seem a little funny that New York isn't as aggressive in recycling as we should be," said Council Speaker Christine Quinn. "When these bills get passed into law it'll put us on a much firmer footing."
New York City trails other U.S. cities in recycling. The state also lags behind others in the nation, when it comes to mandatory and voluntary sorting and recycling of waste products.
The United States, which recycles roughly 40 percent of its packaging, is a distant second to Europe with 55 percent, according to industry statistics.
Erasing the image of New York as a city of scurrying rats and heaps of trash lining the sidewalks has been a priority for Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has launched a 30-year initiative to cut carbon emissions and increase energy efficiency that has been hailed as far-reaching and innovative.
It aims to improve air quality by introducing cleaner running vehicles, such as hybrid taxis, and more green spaces.
The city's recycling program was the most ambitious in the nation when it was created in 1989, but it has been first in line for cuts in times of budgetary constraint. In 2002, the city quit picking up plastics for a year and glass for almost two years.
The new set of rules will be debated at a hearing on Monday, and council officials hope they will be put to a vote soon after. Bloomberg supports the measures, and the council is expected to pass them.
Other U.S. cities, such as San Francisco, have jumped ahead by accepting food waste for compost and nearly all plastics.
The proposed, more stringent regulations for New York, which would cost $3 million, include recycling all rigid plastics, creating more bins in public spaces and boosting recycling at government sites.
"This package of bills could give the city's flagging recycling program a real jolt in the right direction," said Eric Goldstein of the Natural Resources Defense Counsel.
But the proposals only target residential recycling and not businesses that produce more waste, experts say.
Goldstein said the costs of recycling are falling while the costs of exporting garbage to landfills are rising, making recycling a cheaper alternative. As the volume of recycling increases, the cost per ton to recycle will drop, he added.
Convincing New Yorkers to recycle poses a peculiar problem, said Steve Cohen of The Earth Institute at Columbia University. New Yorkers tend to live in apartment buildings where building workers, rather than residents, deal with trash, he said.
"It's a more complicated process than in a suburban home in Seattle, where all your neighbors can see your garbage," he said.
Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst