Recycling It

Rubbish Reincarnate

Step inside NYC’s recycling work horse and learn how the Liberator sorts your trash.

The SIMS municipal recycling unit goes through almost 1000 tons of garbage every day. Located in Brooklyn, the plant processes recyclable waste from almost all of New York City.

— Swati Gupta

There's Cash in Trash

Recycler Pierre Andre Simmons says digging for trash is good money for those with a can-do attitude.

— Tess Owen

E-cycle or Else

Dumping electronic waste became illegal January 1. Here’s an alternative.

Dwarfed by shelves stacked high with laptops on their last legs, twisted bundles of cables, and Tupperware boxes brimming with circuit boards, Edgardo Vargis’s eyes gleam.

“It’s like art to me,” Vargis, 30, said. “It’s seeing man’s creativity at its best.”

Vargis is an engineer at Nettech Electronics Recycling in Mott Haven, The Bronx. Nestled under the off-ramp of the 3rd Avenue Bridge, Nettech is the operating theatre where Vargis performs open-heart surgery on spent PCs, restoring them to full health, installing the latest operating systems, posting them on E-bay, and shipping them back out into circulation. “Advances in technology are so rapid,” Vargis said, his head burrowed into the open back of a standing system unit. “There’s always something new to learn.”

Electronic waste, or e-waste, is the fastest growing waste stream in the world, according to the United Nations Environment Program. The United States was the biggest global culprit in 2014, producing 7.1 million tons of the stuff, or 17 percent of the world’s share, according to a United Nations report published last month, which identifies ever-shortening product lifespans as contributing to the rise.

Here in New York City, although e-waste makes up for only one percent of the municipal waste stream by weight, it’s the fastest growing subset classified as hazardous waste, according to Keith Mellis, spokesman for the sanitation department.

Trapped inside gadgetry are heavy metals like mercury and lead and dangerous chemicals, constituting a “toxic mine” that unless managed with extreme care pose a significant environmental risk, David Malone, the UN Under-Secretary-General, said in a press release.

In New York, dumping electronics in the trash became illegal Jan 1st  this year and since April, the rule has been enforced with a $100 fine for leaving electronic goods at the curbside for general collection. Instead, the law requires that e-waste be brought to a designated recycling location, by off-loading at chain stores that offer recycle programs, such as Staples or Best Buy, or at a disposal event.

Also, consumers who live in an apartment block with ten or more living units can sign up to a free collection service, e-cycleNYC. The sanitation department has seen a large uptick in e-waste recycling since the disposal ban took effect and the agency’s apartment building collection program has more than tripled, a spokesman said. But after bidding farewell to that once-loved gizmo, where does it end up? more >

Tons of electronic waste produced by the U.S.


Share of world's e-waste produced by the U.S.

Recycling Vinyl in Sunset Park

With vinyl sales soaring, a record pressing plant in Brooklyn is regenerating old songs. Literally.

Despite digital downloads ruling the roost when it comes to music consumption, vinyl record sales are up 260 percent since 2009, and 53 percent higher this year, compared to the same period last year, according to a recent report from consumer trend analysts Nielsen.

Riding the wave is Thomas Bernich, owner of Brooklyn Phono, a record-pressing plant in Sunset Park, nestled between auto-repair shops and pallet-storage warehouses. The process of record-pressing is essentially glorified plastic moulding, according to Bernich. Ninety percent of the raw material Bernich uses is from tired old 12-inch albums, supplied by distributors and labels with stock that isn’t shifting or even feuding husbands and wives who want to ditch their collection.

The old records are ground into granules which are then melted down. The music is stored as information on electroplates which press grooves into the raw vinyl material (something akin to “hot toothpaste” said Bernich), which the needle of a record player reads from the finished product.

Brooklyn Phono presses 10,000 12-inches a week. But unlike an mp3, “each playback will be unique,” Bernich said. — George Liam Steptoe


Increase in vinyl sales since 2009

Salvaging New York's Bikes

At any given time there are hundreds of abandoned bikes in New York City. There are a number of reasons why people abandon their two-wheelers attached to railings, lamp posts and in communal basements. The bike may be broken and costly to fix, the owner may be moving or merely just want a new bike. Whatever the reason, the non-profit Recycle-A-Bicycle which has bike shops in the Lower East Side and in Dumbo, Brooklyn is doing something about it. As the name suggests, the organization which was started with a grant from the Department of Sanitation, takes used bikes and recycle them. When possible Recycle-A-Bicycle gets the bike back to working condition, but when this isn’t possible they recycle the bike’s individual parts. — Noele Illien