Buffalo steps up recycling efforts

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

Buffalo officials have finally launched what they are calling an “extensive public awareness campaign” in an effort to boost its anemic recycling rate.

This campaign, announced Monday, comes almost three years after Investigative Post reported how the city had failed to spend more than $400,000 earmarked for recycling education and promotion.

City officials said the goal is to exceed the national recycling rate of 34 percent by 2018.

They have a long way to go.

Buffalo will need to more than double its rate in three years to reach that goal.

In 2012, the city introduced the green tote program, which allows residents to place paper, plastic, glass and other recyclables in a single container. As a result, the curbside recycling rate—based primarily on paper, plastic and other materials that residents place in the green totes—grew from 6.6 percent to 10.2 percent the following year. Since then, the rate has only inched up, and now stands at 11.3 percent. The national rate for curbside recycling programs is about 25 percent.

“I’m not satisfied,” said Susan Attridge, the city’s recycling coordinator, told Investigative Post in a telephone interview.  “We want to do a lot better. I’d like to see it at 25 percent.”

Buffalo also lags on a second recycling measure that combines materials placed in green totes with electronics, hazardous waste, tires and yard trimmings that the city collects at the curb or at drop-off location.

This rate inched up from 15 percent in 2013 to 15.5 percent last year, versus a national average of 34 percent. (The city uses a different set of numbers to calculate a higher recycling rate of 23 percent last year. Read more about that here.)

This new city initiative, called “34 and More” will cost $50,000 and the Buffalo company Block Club is handling the marketing.

A billboard behind city officials says residents can recycle clean pizza boxes.

A billboard behind city officials says residents can recycle clean pizza boxes.

The marketing campaign will involve posters, billboards, advertisements and other materials that promote the recycling program.

Buffalo's new recycling guide made by Block Club.

Buffalo’s new recycling guide made by Block Club.

The new marketing literature provides greater detail of what can and cannot be recycled.

For example, did you know you can recycle plastic lawn furniture and 5-gallon buckets? Or paper towel and toilet paper rolls?

The city also launched a new website: buffalorecycles.org

Although this is a step in the right direction, there are numerous other shortcomings with the city’s recycling program.

For example, the recycling provision in the City Charter is still not in compliance with state law that mandates recycling for one- and two-family households or institutions such as churches.

Regardless, fixing the law would only be a symbolic move if the city continues to refuse to enforce the mandate.

In addition, Buffalo schools still don’t  have a comprehensive recycling program. Of the 58 schools, 27 continue to only recycle cardboard and paper. The rest use green totes or a larger receptacle for mixed recyclables that is picked up by a private contractor.

And despite adding bottle and can recycling bins at Canalside this summer, the city still lacks public recycling bins anywhere downtown.

Check out more of Investigative Post’s reporting on recycling here