Bloomberg declares a recycling expansion, and an end to the tyranny of coded plastics

Robert Kelman and Bloomberg on Wednesday. (Dana Rubinstein)
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Mayor Michael Bloomberg says he keeps a small waste basket for recyclables at his Upper East Side mansion, but he never knows which plastics to recycle and which to throw away.

"There used to be these crazy codes on the bottom of rigid pieces of plastic, which I will say, with my eyes, I could never see," said an unusually chipper Bloomberg, as he stood at a podium in City Hall Park beneath two budding trees.

Before today, only plastics coded 1 or 2 were recyclable. Now, all hard plastics are.

"If it's rigid, recycle it," said the mayor. "If it's a plastic bag, no! That's not rigid."

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Among the plastic objects that are now recyclable and last week weren't: yogurt containers, plastic cups, plastic toys, shampoo bottles and CD cases.

Plastic bags, however, still must be trashed the old-fashioned way, because the flimsy material "blinds the optics" of the trash-sorting machines, according to Robert Kelman, the president of the city's recycling contractor, SIMS North America Metals.

Bloomberg said the expanded recycling program would save the city $600,000 a year, reduce the city's carbon footprint and keep some 50,000 tons of plastic from entering landfills annually.

Earlier this year, in his 12th and final state of the city address, the mayor promised to double the city's recycling rate to 30 percent, thereby plugging one of the gaping holes in his otherwise widely lauded efforts to make New York City greener.

Toward that same end, Bloomberg has said he will put 1,000 more recycling containers on city streets by the end of the year and implement a household composting pilot program in parts of Staten Island.

"When I started many years ago in the department, the recycling wasn't much," said sanitation commissioner John Doherty, who turned 75 on Monday (Earth Day) and started working in the department in 1960. "The only recycling going on was the sanitation workers, things they picked out of the hopper and recycled for their own benefits."

As a servicey bonus, Bloomberg also recommended washing your recyclables before discarding them.

"If it sits there in your kitchen for a day or so, you know, you're gonna have a problem with the smell, or even attracting things you don't want," he said.