Rubbish that can be recycledNew York City officials are trying to figure out where the city’s recycling goes once it is picked up.

Experts estimate that the amount of waste produced in New York City ranges from 3.5 to 5.5 million tons every year.

And it is mostly minorities who do the collecting. Each night, 4,000 workers, made up of mostly Black and Hispanic men, set out to collect the 10,000 tons of commercial city trash produced per night. 

This job is not for the faint of heart, as these collectors work under severe conditions. They must bend at the waist and toss heavy loads of garbage up high onto trucks. Shifts last between 12 and 16 hours and in any one shift, a man can lift as much as 20 tons of garbage by hand.

At the end of their shift, the exhausted workers unload their night’s haul into a facility in North Brooklyn. However, reports show there is no recycling separation and sorting available at this location.

Recycling reform advocates are, understandably, baffled. They call for more to be done. New city regulations aim to help fix the problem, but many industry representatives don’t believe it to be that simple.

Last year, the organization Transform Don’t Trash (TDT) estimated the city recycling rate at being 25%. But new numbers released by TDT report the rate to actually be a lower percentage between 19 and 22%.

Even though the recycling rate is lower than expected, steel is still one of the top recycled items in the nation. Nearly 69% of all steel is recycled in North America each year.

Justin Wood, a data analyst at TDT tells Waste Dive that it is impossible to determine if the recycling was taken to another region in the state or to nearby New Jersey.

“The rate remains low despite every company out there scrambling to rebrand itself as a green company,” said Wood.

Even still, these commercial figures are higher than the residential recycling rate. TDT reports only 16% of New York City residents regularly recycle.