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Recycling Advocates Investigate NYC Waste

HOST INTRO: New Yorkers throw away 44 million pounds of trash every day. The city began recycling 26 years ago, but today three quarters of waste is still not sorted. Now a group of trash activists going through garbage manually to see if they can figure out why people don’t recycle. Devin Briski has the story.

Ambient: People unloading boxes

It’s 9am on an NYU loading dock. Workers move boxes in and out of trucks. Tessa Rosenberry is standing next to a cluster of trash bags, and it stinks.


It smells a little gross—a little bit like trash has been spilled on the floor many times, which it has. But it smells kinda familiar.

She’s been going through trash bags from the NYU student for the past two years. Today, she’s teaching Rupel Mehta what to look for.

Mehta: wait, was that a balloon in there? 

They have gloves on. They take each item out—it’s like an archeological dig. Rosenberry holds up each item and examines it closely, looking for brand and manufacturer.

Rosenberry: Coffee lid/ brand/manufacturer.

One of Rosenberry’s colleagues keeps track. When they’re done, they put it into one of the six bins behind them. They’re labeled liquid, organics, paper, rigid and soft plastic, metals, and more. Her goal is to figure out why so many compostables and recyclables end up in the trash. Rosenberry is a trash scientist. She’s learned a lot from the waste, and she thinks others can too.

ROSENBERRY: With enough data on certain waste by a certain brand, we can go back to that store and say ‘hey we have this info about how much waste you’re producing and how much ends up at NYU. Could we work together to work to work towards  a zero waste program at your store?

She also goes back to the bins where the trash was collected originally. She posts a running tally of how the students are doing. She’s trying to figure out whether this information will encourage people to sort their own trash. She says there are three main reasons why people don’t recycle: apathy, confusion and


Doubt: people not trusting the that the effort they make to recycle is not following through on

Engineering student Rupel Mehta has been inspired to start composting.

MEHTA: At home we have one for landfill and one for recycling. But now I think we should expand it to include more. Now I know what’s compostable and not compostable. That’s pretty good.

Pretty good, and could be better. Tessa Rosenberry will be back next week sorting trash again.

Devin Briski, Columbia Radio News.


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