If There Were A Global Cities Green Cup Challenge, NYC Wouldn’t Contend

Holly Lynch New Yorker

If There Were A Global Cities Green Cup Challenge, NYC Wouldn’t Contend

Holly Lynch: Citizen Advocate
May 1, 2018

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While a junior at Harvard, I led the Environmental Action Committee’s first Green Cup competition aimed at measuring and incentivizing environmental stewardship on campus. The friendly competition enticed participants with ice cream parties and commuter mugs. At the time, many brushed us off (and climate change as an impending reality), saying no one cared. 

But we persisted, postering campus with cheeky recycled paper notes encouraging shared showers and toothbrushes to gauge our only data points -- electricity and water usage. Today, the Sierra Club puts Harvard among the top in the world for its innovative and effective means of reducing its global carbon footprint. I feel vindicated that those small, tentative steps achieved real, sustainable impact.

So how is it that New York City, founded only 12 years before Harvard, but with unrivalled economic and intellectual leadership clout, lags behind in the world ranking of sustainable cities, while Harvard ranks among the top 20 efforts to curtail climate change and, ultimately, global health instability?

When it comes to eco-friendly countries, Yale’s 2018 Environmental Performance Index ranks the U.S. 27th in the world, while Wallethub’s 2017 report ranks New York City 16th in the U.S.

Of course, these rankings also measure green practices like clean energy, recycling and urban agriculture that create jobs. This approach helps cities align sustainability with economic goals. Win-win.

We do rank first when it comes to urban transportation sustainability, according to a new study by the London-based Centre for Economics and Business Research. But transportation is only one environmental pillar.

By contrast, our trash and recycling figures are alarming. Landfill comes at a high cost to the environment and city. According to a Crain’s report, only 16% of New Yorkers recycle, while 100% produce a TON of landfill-polluting trash each, costing the DOS $449 per person. The highest in the nation! And a 2017 Independent Budget Office report estimates we’ll spend $415 million exporting our trash by 2020 -- an expense that only benefits Tony Soprano.

And then there’s composting. Many cities (like San Francisco and Seattle) mandate composting all organic waste, reaping financial benefits. New Yorkers welcomed then-Mayor Bloomberg’s 2013 pilot brown bin program, but brown bins still aren’t accessible in more populated neighborhoods and buildings. So what happened to “0x30”? 

We’re enthusiastic composters. In fact, many neighboring buildings and my entire family carry their organics to the brown bins because they do care.

It’s time to get back on track, ensure New York City recycles all waste, and learns from others’ success. Incentivize and align sustainability along economic goals.

Most garbage is recyclable into goods and energy that improve our planet and create jobs. So let’s mandate recycling and composting. Imposing monetary penalties on private and commercial trash would balance the expense of garbage disposal with green job creation. New Yorkers should invest their money in the future, not bury it in mob-owned landfills.

Holly Lynch New Yorker