Resource Use

New York businesses take zero waste challenge pledge

New York businesses take zero waste challenge pledgeNew York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Zero Waste Challenge has attracted commitments from 31 businesses, which have pledged to divert at least half of their waste from landfill and incineration this year.

Major companies and retailers including television network ABC/Disney, brewer Anheuser-Busch, food retailer Whole Foods and major sporting venues the Barclays Center and Citi Field are among those that have signed up to the challenge, part of the OneNYC plan to send zero waste to landfill by 2030.

The challenge began in February this year and will run until the end of June. In order to successfully complete the challenge, each of the businesses has committed to divert at least 50 per cent of their waste from both landfill and incineration by the end of the challenge.

Businesses in New York are generally starting from a relatively low diversion baseline, with the city estimating that commercial establishments currently create an three million tonnes of waste per year, less than one third of which is recycled or reused. Moreover, the Department of Sanitation’s 2012 ‘Commercial Waste Characterization Study’ found that food waste and other organic material make up 35 per cent of the commercial waste stream, with paper accounting for 37 per cent and other recyclables making up 17 per cent. In total, the city estimates that businesses should be able to divert around 90 per cent of the waste they generate from landfill.

Companies participating in the challenge have therefore also been given optional higher goals of diverting 75 per cent or 90 per cent of waste. The Mayor’s Office explains that diversion can be achieved through a number of different methods including purchasing more efficiently, using reusable materials whenever possible, donating all edible food to local charities, separating food scraps for composting and separating recyclables for recycling.

Awards will be given to the businesses that meet each of the increasing targets, as well as the one that achieves the best overall waste diversion rate, the one that donates the most food to local charities and organisations, and the most successful or innovative source reduction effort.

So far, participants have already diverted nearly 13,000 tonnes of waste from landfill or incineration, have composted over 4,000 tonnes of inedible organic waste, and have donated 107 tonnes of leftover food to charitable organisations. According to the Mayor’s Office, the average diversion rate of all challenge participants so far is 60 per cent.

Initiatives implemented by participants have included modifying purchase practices, reducing packaging, and switching to reusable materials or digital storage. Some participants have stocked their offices with reusable coffee mugs or glasses instead of disposable cups and bottled water; another did away with filing cabinets and moved to a digital storage system.

City Harvest redistributes unused food to community food projects across New York
The Zero Waste Challenge comes ahead of a new commercial organics law that will require certain categories businesses to redistribute food scraps and other organic material for beneficial use from 2017. New commercial recycling policies simplifying the city’s current rules with the aim of making them easier for businesses to follow will also be introduced next year. These new Department of Sanitation rules will aim to compel all businesses to recycle all recyclable materials.

Big businesses must lead the way to zero waste

Mayor de Blasio said: “Our Zero Waste Challenge participants are leaders in their industries – and now they’re also leaders in sustainability. In OneNYC, we made a major commitment to sending zero waste to landfill by 2030. We’re doing what we can to make recycling and composting as accessible as possible to New Yorkers, but everyone will need to do their part to make a more sustainable New York City a reality. These businesses are leading the way.” 

New York City Council member Donovan Richards added: “If we are going to achieve the city’s goal of reaching zero waste by 2030, we will need the help of big businesses, which is why it is great to see so many iconic businesses participating in the Zero Waste Challenge.

“Separating food waste and using reusable materials is important for all New Yorkers, but to truly make a dent, we must partner with the largest contributors of leftover waste.”

Jilly Stephens, Executive Director of City Harvest, one of the city’s food redistribution charities, concluded: “Today, nearly 1.4 million residents struggle to put meals on their tables regularly, and recovering excess food is a practical way to feed hungry New Yorkers and reduce food waste at the same time. In fact, through our food rescue work, we have prevented over 500,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas from being produced – which is the equivalent of taking 100,000 cars off the road for a year.”

More information on the Zero Waste Challenge can be found on the City of New York’s website