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Porters, Handymen, and Doorman, or PHD's Blog
  Sorting Refuse Would Be a Snap if Only They Could Sort the Rules  
  By Andy Newman, The New York Times, March 5, 2004




SEEMS YOU CANíT PLEASE ANYONE.  People complained for years about having to recycle their trash. Then they complained when Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg canceled most recycling to save the city money. And they positively howled in confusion when he restored some recycling but cut collections to every other week.

So it should not be surprising that many New Yorkers greeted the news that full weekly recycling of glass, plastic, metal and paper would resume in four weeks less than enthusiastically.

"Now we're going to have to worry about the glass?" Mary Owens, the superintendent of an apartment building overlooking Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, said yesterday. "The people in the building won't recycle glass unless a miracle happens."

City officials say the new schedule, beginning April 1, should clear up any confusion that crept in as the city lurched in recent years from one recycling regimen to the next.

But the fact is that many New Yorkers never quite got the hang of it to begin with. A Marist College poll in 2001 - before the gutting of the recycling program - found most New Yorkers scoring below 50 percent on a pop quiz about whether 12 common household items could be recycled. (Only 3 out of 918 respondents got all 12 answers right.)

A partial tour of the city yesterday found that even in two community districts, one encompassing much of brownstone Brooklyn and one in the northeast Bronx - where recycling participation was once high but fell by more than a third during the dark years - confusion was still prevalent.

"It's still very unclear in my mind," said Jon Naiman, 38, a photographer in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. "I don't see other households are getting it either. My impression is I'm a fairly attuned person and I can't figure it out."

For example, Mr. Naiman said, "I don't think you're supposed to mix cardboard and paper." In fact, you can.

"And,'' he asked, "what about laundry detergent jugs? Are they recyclable?" Indeed they are, as are all narrow-necked plastic bottles with the little "1" or "2" inside the triangular recycling logo at the base.

In Woodlawn in the Bronx, Anne Marie Weyrauch, it turns out, had the rules wrong. "Now glass is going in with the regular garbage?" she asked. No, she was told, glass will now be recycled.

"That's funny," said Ms. Weyrauch, 33. "I just left the glass in the clear bag today and put it out to be recycled."

Ms. Weyrauch is no slouch when it comes to dealing with bureaucracy. She works for a car dealership and said she had no problem navigating the complexities of obtaining registrations and license plates for customers' cars. But there is something about recycling policies that seems to short-circuit some people's brains. "I remember they posted signs that they're not recycling something," she said. "But I forgot what it is."

For the record, here are some things that may be recycled: pizza boxes, envelopes with windows, aerosol cans and toasters.

Here are some things that may not be recycled: plastic shopping bags, clamshell deli containers, mirrors and light bulbs.

The city will be sending households a flier explaining all this in the coming weeks. Don't recycle it!

What will it take to get people to toe the line on recycling? Corporal punishment, or the threat thereof, was cited by several subjects. Ms. Owens in the Bronx said she recycled assiduously because her husband hits her in the head if she doesn't.

In Park Slope, Brooklyn, Joe Taverney, 28, recalled that not long ago, "I put out some glass, but my landlord threatened me and then I remembered."

Philip Ameduri, a landlord of two buildings in Carroll Gardens, said his tenants seldom slipped up. "If I see something wrong, I tell them how to do it," Mr. Ameduri said. "It's my way or the highway."

Mr. Ameduri, retired from a job on Wall Street, had no patience with recycling know-nothings. "If you look at the pictures on the sign, it's not hard," he said, adding that his motto, "When in doubt, recycle it," had never steered him wrong.

Then there are parts of the city where the latest developments in the recycling policy are likely to be just as widely ignored as previous ones.

"I don't do it," said Anna Anglero, 44, who lives in the Red Hook West city housing complex in Brooklyn. "We have the incinerators right there so I just throw everything in it."

Some New Yorkers rejoiced to hear of recycling's return.

"That's excellent," said William Imboden, 42, a television producer in Park Slope. "We've been up to our eyeballs in recycling, and when the snows came they missed us and we had stuff all over the stoop."

"And it smells," chimed in his wife, Fiona Imboden, 38. "It costs money, but it seems like a cost worth paying," Mr. Imboden said.   "We have to be environmentally conscious," Ms. Imboden added.

But even some steadfast recycling supporters harbored doubts. "How long is this going to last, six months?" asked Greg Grogan, the superintendent of an apartment building on Grand Concourse in the Bronx. "He should make a law and stick with it."

Ann Farmer and Howard O. Stier contributed reporting for this article.
Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company


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