My Magic Marker Finally Paid Off

(11 am. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

Cross-posted at DailyKos and Firefly-Dreaming.

After it was announced this week that New York City would make a “first major changes to the city’s recycling laws since 1989” and “require the Department of Sanitation to recycle all rigid plastic containers,” I know I played a small part.

I’d like to think that waiting my turn at public hearings and constant letters to elected officials had something to do with keeping “more than 8,000 tons of plastic out of landfills annually.” I wish my low impact DKos diaries played a part but I’m pretty sure that my graffiti had some serious impact.

For about a year whenever I found myself in the privacy of a public men’s room stall, I just scribbled some message on the wall.  I also think that so many New Yorkers assuming that the city accepted all sorts of plastic played a role in the new legislature but a few saw my message.

Protest NYC’s limited plastic recycle program. Place all plastic in the Blue Bag!

I wrote other messages. Too many to remember but here are a few more.  

New York City is a take-out food town. How many less tons of plastic landfill would there be if the government recycled plastic take-out containers? You should ask Michael Bloomberg.

Sometimes very simple but informative.

All those deli containers you bring home are recyclable in most cities but not New York. Ask Bloomberg why?

Sometimes complicated.

Our “Green Mayor” doesn’t like recycle. NYC started the recycle program but Bloomberg has driven us to the bottom. When Giuliani left 20% of residential garbage was recycled. Now it is 16%!  Demand the expansion of plastic recycle in NYC.

Scribbling on walls is probably one of the oldest forms of protest. Seems a bit dated but nothing else seemed to be working in this modern age. Following the national news and watching all the progress in recycle programs elsewhere has been very frustrating for this New Yorker. Writing letters that don’t even generate a form letter reply was a dead end so I tried some writing where I knew I had a captive audience.

In case you don’t know, until this legislation becomes law, New York City has enjoyed a reputation as a green city even though the recycle program has always been very restricted and has never been improved. On the top of non-recyclables list is almost all plastics.


  • plastic items other than plastic bottles jugs (such as deli and yogurt containers; plastic toys, cups, wrap, etc. – if it’s not a bottle or jug, DON’T put it the recycling bin, place in trash)
  • This part of the NYC recycle program info page will be changing soon.

    In other municipal recycling programs in the U.S., such as San Francisco, residents are encouraged to recycle all plastics in order to maximize the recycling rate of HDPE and PET. If residents do not have to think about which plastic to recycle or to discard, the thinking goes, they will recycle more overall.  In such programs, non-HDPE and non-PET resins are usually sorted out and discarded at the recycling plant. In New York City, high labor and transportation costs suggest that such an approach is not worth the expense and extra citizen effort.

    I wish I could remember more of the messages I wrote in my civil disobedience project. Often I stressed civil disobedience by others. I was thinking that if more New Yorkers  ignored the rules in their building’s recycle area and put all rigid plastic in the recycle bins, then the city government would get the message.

    Being a good obedient citizen, I mostly wrote messages that stressed using proper channels. I thought this one had Flair, even though I used both thick and thin Sharpies.

    Just Plastic Bottles!

    The rest of the nation is in the 21th Century

    but NYC has not improved the plastic recycle program

    since the Koch administration

    Ask Bloomberg why?

    Just Plastic Bottles!

    I don’t really know how much impact I made and most got erased almost immediately. I know a few New Yorkers that probably never think about garbage saw it and that was rewarding. I could have done more. I had also purchased labels to write messages on and was planning to stick them underneath that “Press Here for Light to Turn Green” buttons that never really work but that project never materialized.

    It was no big deal, just a small effort. Still I’d like to think that I played a small part in the expansion of the New York City recycle program. And I’m glad I did.

    If I sound like I’m bragging then my apologies but I’m going to be feeling pretty good about myself this Earth Day. All NYC environmentalist will be celebrating some progress this Earth Day. I hope you have a happy and productive Earth Day too.  


      • Eddie C on April 16, 2010 at 04:56

      Well, in the present day politics, it didn’t feel that way.

      • TMC on April 16, 2010 at 05:59

      I’m tired of trying to figure whether its recyclable or not.

    1. Just because a method is old-fashioned doesn’t mean it isn’t effective. You have probably reached hundreds of people that will never go online or, maybe, even read a newspaper. The core tenet of advertising: you have to meet your audience where they are.

      I think every 5th grade class (and every adult who hasn’t) should visit a Waste Management recycling facility. They would be forever disabused of the notion that segregating recyclables is necessary. Know what the first thing is that they would see? A huge dump truck full of mixed recyclables dumping its load onto sorting lines.

      No matter how finely they are sorted initially, recyclables are aggregated for transport to the facility — glass, cans, plastics, paper — where is is sorted for recycling. That is necessary because 1) the materials come from a variety of municipal waste streams and they can’t guarantee the materials have been accurately sorted and 2) it would be prohibitively expensive to transport each stream separately, while it is fairly cheap to sort in-house.

      In city after city I have seem the same thing: “leaders,” who are personally opposed to recycling (or just don’t want to be bothered), citing fictitious reasons for imposing bogus and arbitrary sorting regulations in an effort to make recycling so onerous that the citizens won’t do it. They can then cite end-user resistance or lack of compliance as reasons to abandon recycling altogether.

      I lived in a city where they did not pick up recyclables. After much complaining from citizens, they set up recycling bins in grocery store parking lots around town. They were so heavily used that the city decided to remove them because they were a “nuisance” to the stores. (The store owners, who supported recycling, objected and asked for them back, whereupon the city declared recycling bins a health hazard and threatened the stores’ health permits.) They moved the bins to a fenced facility at the far end of town and people still came in droves. Then they locked up the bins except during “business” hours — 7:00 am to 3:00 pm — and people still filled the bins daily.

      Waste Management, who is an active supporter of recycling, came twice a day to empty the bins, and they kept filling up. Then the city started preventing WM from picking up the recyclables more than once a day and the materials started piling up. So the city declared it a health hazard and did away with the program.

      WM was so incensed that they jettisoned the city’s garbage pick-up contract. And since WM controls the garbage pick-up in the Midwest, the city was forced to start its own garbage pickup program. But their problem was that WM owned the only licensed landfills in the STATE (and the next state, too), so they had to pay WM to dispose of the waste they picked up.

      Then WM decided to close the local landfill for “renovation.” The next closest landfill, also owned by WM, was in the adjoining state. That’s when the city found out they had to have a special federal permit to haul waste across state lines – and it would take a year to get one. So then they had to pick up the garbage and pay WM to come and get it and take it to their landfill. This went on for nearly a year.

      Every week or so a WM official would be interviewed in the newspaper and on TV about the status of the landfill. They would always note that the city could have saved a lot of money by recycling, since it would reduce the amount of waste they had to haul and generate income to offset program costs (WM actually pays for recyclable materials).

      In the end, the city wasted millions of dollars because the city manager and city councilmen were idiots. But because it was a council/city manager form of government it was hard to hold them all accountable. So citizens mounted a petition drive and voted to overthrow the form of government and kicked them all out.

      I know WM is a mafia front, and I don’t even care. Sometimes that is what it takes to deal with intransigence and stupidity by entrenched politicians who have set themselves up to be invulnerable.

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