Assessing NYU’s Single Bin Recycling

NYU made the switch to single stream recycling in its residence halls this year, which allows students to throw everything into one container and let the city/recycling companies take care of the rest. Sounds great, right? Less work for us busy students and an extra moment in the day where we can do something good while simultaneously letting our overworked brains rest. But (as with everything ever done at NYU), the move has as many supporters as it does opponents (and other people who either haven’t noticed or are just generally confused).

Proponents of single stream recognize that it simply makes more people recycle; some point out that moving the sorting process out of homes and into the hands of waste management companies creates more jobs.

So what could be bad about an easier recycling system? Well, it has much higher starting costs, for one, because of the equipment involved. And while it’s easier for you, it’s more complicated for the products. Opponents believe that, because people will pay less attention to what they’re doing, non-recyclables are more likely to mix with recyclables, requiring the redirection of whole batches to landfills. This same lack of attention, they argue, might decrease education and awareness about the recycling process.

UPDATE: Diane Anderson, the Manager of Sustainable Resources at NYU, who is responsible for recycling initiatives, explains that NYU’s goal is to “increase the amount of recycling collected” by simplifying the system. No longer having to empty multiple bins into multiple receptacles has streamlined unnecessarily burdensome work for F&CM workers. The start up costs were minimal because they already had the general infrastructure in place; it was “generally just an issue of relabeling bins” a task for which they employed “both full-time and student employees.”

Considering the minimal cost of switching, the increased recycling and the streamlining of work without eliminating jobs, NYU’s new single stream recycling system was a smart move.


  • Andew Silverstein
    November 5, 2010

    Yes, but what were the results; i.e. How much of an increase was seen?
    Was there higher contamination in the recycling bins? and Is the University realizing reduced rebates from the poorer quality of the waste stream?

  • Christine Johnson
    November 5, 2010

    @ Andrew: If they have any data on that, they haven’t released it. But Diane Anderson said she believes mixed recycling will ultimately help NYU’s bottom line, so I am (possible naively) assuming that they have seen some measurable increase in volume. I doubt they’re measuring contamination, and I doubt any potential in rebates would be significant enough to justify the more tedious labor (from an “nyu as business” standpoint).

  • Christine Johnson
    November 5, 2010

    *potential reduction in rebates

  • Alex Gerrard
    November 5, 2010

    As far as I understand it, NYU halls that are leased still use the multiple stream recycling (separate glass, plastic, paper etc) because NYC’s Dept. of Sanitation still handles their waste. But admin/academic buildings, which are all owned by NYU, have made the switch to single stream.

    It’d be great to have the whole university on the same system, so I kinda wish the Dept. of Sanitation would switch over to single stream or allow our leased halls to handle their own waste.

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