Pridgen prompts City Hall on recycling

News and analysis by Dan Telvock, Investigative Post's environmental reporter

Buffalo Common Council President Darius Pridgen knows the city’s recycling rate is well below the national average of 34 percent.

In an effort to boost the recycling program, he has gained approval from his colleagues for a resolution that proscribes steps he wants the city to take to promote recycling.

They include:

  • The Corporation Counsel should review recycling provisions in the City Charter and recommend changes to bring them in line with state’s recycling mandate.
  • The Public Works Department must remind businesses that recycling is mandated. Many don’t recycle.
  • Summer seasonal hires should visit households that are not recycling and educate those residents about the program.
  • Those same seasonal hires would compile statistics that will provide a clearer picture of the residential participation rates in the recycling program.

Whether the city follows through on the plan is up to Mayor Byron Brown.

Investigative Post in 2013 visited 1,742 homes throughout the city and found that just over half used the green totes to recycle. That helps to explain the city’s low recycling rate.

“While they are in the areas on the day of garbage pickup we are able to get a better gauge on which communities are actually recycling and which are not,” Pridgen said.

One problem with the City Charter is that it does not mandate recycling for one- and two-family households or institutions such as churches.

“If the law needs to be adjusted so that we are in line, that’s what we as legislators are supposed to do, and we’re not going to hide underneath a rug about that,” Pridgen said.

“If there is a piece that needs to be added this Council is going to make sure that occurs.”

So, what is the city’s recycling rate?

Brown said during his recent State of the City speech that the rate has climbed to 23 percent. But I reported last week that his administration is refusing to release the recycling statistics to Investigative Post to see how the rate was computed.

I want to fact check the mayor’s claim of progress because last May I reported that the administration had inflated the 2013 recycling rate by including materials not counted in the past that aren’t actually picked up by the city.

Regardless, it is fair to say the city’s recycling rate is substantially below the national average and ranks among the worst in the region, based on an Investigative Post survey last year.

Pridgen said the city shouldn’t hide the data being withheld by the administration, in apparent violation of the state Freedom of Information Law.

“Put the data on the website,” Pridgen said. “Who cares? Let people know. It doesn’t need to be secret.”

Buffalo’s low recycling rate costs the city money. Trash collection services, mostly paid by the garbage user fee, lose $3 million a year. That deficit would be trimmed by about a third if the city recycled at a rate closer to the national average.

“To save the city money, that is important,” Pridgen said.

“But when you look at the environmental concerns, we need to be concentrating on educating people and that’s why this Council is getting ready to do that now.”