In 2006 the Jesse Smith Noyes Foundation and the NY City Council Manhattan Delegation awarded The Morningside Heights West Harlem Sanitation Coalition, Inc. a grant to improve the rate of recycling in public housing. Over the years, The Sanitation Coalition has successfully implemented this pilot program in Grant Houses, one of the largest public housing developments in New York City.
In 2008 we received a DEC Environmental Justice Community Impact Grant to continue and enhance this recycling program in Grant Houses, adding a monthly series of environmental education forums, creating an internship program of recycling monitors, and tracking the effectiveness, awareness and participation by residents through a series of surveys.
The pilot recycling program consists of conducting floor-by-floor informational workshops on how to recycle and why. We use a ‘hands-on’ approach for teaching.
First we recruit residents from each building ad then train these volunteers to be ‘recycling leaders’ for their building. With these leaders we then hold weekly 20-minute workshops in the hallway of each floor, doing about 3 floors per night. We the. Repeat the process to reach any who missed the first round.
Each building averages 21 floors and 170 apartments. It takes 2 moths to completely reach every apartment in a building.
Through this workshops we explain the specifics of what and how to recycle and the reasons. We engage the participants by using sample items for them to test their knowledge, encouraging dialogue and using as much humor as possible. We often have discussions about various maintenance and resident issues in the building as well as environmental issues in the neighborhood.
Underlying the entire project are a few basic principles:
- Residents themselves make up most of the leadership teams.
- Safe, adequate and convenient recycling facilities are provided.
- Reasons given for recycling are specifically relevant to their residents.
- Small hands-on, floor by floor workshops are the basic format.
These workshops are successful mainly because residents themselves run them, with non-residents acting only as facilitators. Neighbors teach neighbors, creating a personal investment in caring for their homes.
Recycling directly improves their quality of life. Diverting more products to recycling reduces the accumulation of garbage in buildings, which in turn reduces the infestation of rodents and the use of harmful pesticides to control them.
Our pilot program also fosters a sense of community and empowerment among residents. Workshops are short and fun and provide a chance for residents to meet and talk with their neighbors. Our workshop leaders make the residents feel comfortable. We look for what they already know and help them learn more. After each workshop we distribute recycling materials:
- “we recycle” stickers
- recycling coloring books and pins for kids
- special recycling bags
- Refrigerator magnets
- additional informational fliers
With the successful competition of each building’s workshops we hold a “ribbon cutting” ceremony and reception. Various public and elected officials attended and we installed large banners: “3150 Leads The Way” and “75 La Salle Recycles, Too.”
Since participating in our Pilot Recycling Program, Grant Houses Residents have reduced the amount of garbage collected and increased the amount of recyclables sorted by about 30%, helping the city reach its citywide-targeted diversion goals. We continue to track progress by having the maintenance staff count the garbage bags collected each week and circulating periodic surveys of the residents’ awareness and participation.
This program now serves as a model to be replicated throughout NY City’s public housing complexes. With this Grant we have been able to personally show people how to recycle. Now they are actively doing it, and with a sense of pride and community empowerment.
We have developed a very productive collaboration with the maintenance staff, NYCHA administration, and the Department of Sanitation. Our program’s success has won praise from both NYCHA and The Council on the Environment, Office I Recycling Outreach and Education (OROE) as a model program for them and to emulate, and we have been asked to consult with them on various recycling programs and policies.
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