Pilot Public Housing Recycling Program
In 2005 we became a non- profit 501 (c) 3 Corporation. Before that time, through the use of a fiscal conduit, The Sanitation Coalition received funding from the Jesse Smith Noyes Foundation and the NY City Council Manhattan Delegation to improve the rate of recycling in our community. Since 2005, The Morningside Heights/ West Harlem Sanitation Coalition, Inc. has received a grant from the City Council every year. Beginning in 2006, The Sanitation Coalition successfully implemented a pilot program at Grant Houses that resulted in their recycling above the City average. Grant Houses is one of the largest public housing developments in New York City.
In 2008 in cooperation with the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), we won a New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Environmental Justice Community Impact Grant. Its purpose was to continue to enhance our recycling program in Grant Houses, adding a monthly series of environmental education forums, creating a program of recycling monitors, and tracking the effectiveness, awareness and participation by residents through a series of surveys.
The pilot recycling program consisted of conducting floor-by-floor informational workshops on why and how to recycle. We used a ‘hands-on’ approach for teaching. We also consulted with NYCHA concerning the purchase and placement of rat proof recycling bins for each building at Grant Houses.
First we recruited residents from each building and then trained these volunteers to be “recycling leaders” in their buildings. With these leaders, we held weekly 20-minute workshops in the hallway of each floor, doing about 3 floors per night. We even repeated the process to reach any who missed the first round. Each building but one contains 21 floors and 170 apartments. The remaining building has 13 floors. It took approximately 2 months to completely “educate” every apartment in a building.
Through these workshops we explained the specifics of recycling and the reasons for doing it. We engaged the participants by using sample items to test their knowledge, encouraging dialogue and using as much humor as possible. We often had discussions about various maintenance and resident issues in the building as well as environmental issues in the neighborhood.
Underlying the entire project were a few basic principles:
– Residents made up most of the leadership teams.
– Safe, adequate and convenient recycling facilities were provided.
– Reasons given for recycling were specifically relevant to their residents.
– Small hands-on, floor by floor workshops were the basic format.
These workshops were successful mainly because residents themselves ran them, with non-residents acting only as facilitators. Neighbor taught neighbor, creating a personal investment in caring for their homes.
Recycling directly improved the residents’ 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 fostered a sense of community and empowerment among residents. Workshops were short and fun and provided a chance for residents to meet and talk with their neighbors. Our workshop leaders made the residents feel comfortable. We looked for what the people already knew and helped them learn more. After each workshop we distributed recycling materials:
– “We recycle” stickers
– Recycling coloring books and pins for kids
– Special recycling bags
– Refrigerator magnets
– Additional informational fliers
With the successful completion of each building’s workshops, we held a “ribbon cutting” ceremony and reception. Various public and elected officials attended and we installed large banners such as: “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. 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 productive collaboration with the maintenance staff, NYCHA administration, and the Department of Sanitation. Our program’s success has won praise from both NYCHA, GrowNYC’s Office of Recycling Outreach and Education (OROE) and other “waste reduction” groups as a model program for other buildings and developments to emulate. We have been asked to consult with OROE on various recycling programs and policies.
Community Recycling Workshops
The coalition participates in various community events in the area to educate neighbors and visitors about the importance of recycling and how to do it. With a recycling interactive game, participants are challenged to show their knowledge about recycling, learn new things and get a small reward for playing, while being encouraged to spread the word at home and/or with friends.
A green bag, a blue bag and a regular trash bag are put out along with different materials to be disposed of correctly in each of the recycling or disposal bags. After playing, participants receive additional recycling or related environmental awareness informational fliers to take with them.
Textile and E-Waste Recycling events
Holding up to 3 events per year (spring, summer and fall) The Sanitation Coalition facilitates textile and e-waste disposal for local residents and visitors.
We have collected more than 2,500 lbs of textiles at some events. These materials no longer go to the landfill but instead are donated to Wearable Collections for reuse and recycling.
E-waste can represent an environmental threat when disposed in landfills because of toxic chemical components that will be released in the ground. Working with the Lower East Side Ecology Center last summer we collected several tons that have been properly disposed or repurposed.
Since 1994 the Coalition has been encouraging neighbors to interact to build a better community. A great example is the annual event “Hands Across the Street Potluck Dinner”, where residents from Grant Houses get together with residents of Morningside Gardens for a night of joy and friendship. The Swing Tone Band plays dance music and many local elected officials mingle with the residents and express their appreciation for the work that we have done.
A few of our other accomplishments are:
– Working to make the elevated section of the #1 train more attractive and less noisy.
– Getting empty lots cleaned up.
– Working across property lines to reduce rat infestations.