Politics

De Blasio administration hopes to incentivize sustainability

A tax break for recycling? That's an idea the de Blasio administration is considering. At City & State's On Energy event, New York City Department of Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia spoke about using incentives, rather then penalties, to gain support for greener practices, admitting that tying various policy goals to peoples’ wallets often persuades them to engage in more sustainable habits.

Garcia said the city has brainstormed ways to compel people to treat less material as garbage and begin recycling more food scraps and other materials by potentially using tax beaks and other incentives.

“We’re looking at how do you save as you throw?” Garcia said. “How can you incentivize people rather than penalize people? So if you reduce and you recycle, that you would end up paying less than a certain amount on your property taxes, for example.”

Moderating the panel was Jonathan Bowles, the executive director for the Center for an Urban Future think tank. He asked Garcia about how pricing may figure into the city’s approach to reducing plastic bags and meeting larger sustainability goals. More than 20 City Council members signed onto a bill last year that would have added a 10-cent fee on plastic bags in the city. Some critics contended the fee was regressive in that it would saddle lower-income New Yorkers with a proportionally larger lift. (The legislation does allow stores to waive the 10-cents for those on food stamps and WIC.) The administration has said it is studying the idea for months.

“We are definitely looking at doing fees for plastic bags,” Garcia said. “We clearly want to take on the issue of single use bags, and plastic bags in particular, not only because of the environmental damage, but goodness do they act like hair on a vacuum cleaner in a recycling plant.”

Garcia said consumers take their cue from cost schemes and the city saw this with water rates, but said the de Blasio administration wants to ensure its “equitable” in using this tactic going forward.

“Price signals matter,” she said. “Most other people across the country pay in some way for their disposable waste, and it really does change behavior pretty rapidly. But we don’t want to be punitive … We are somewhat different in that we’re such a high percentage of renters.”

Also on the panel was Nilda Mesa, director of the city’s Office of Sustainability. She outlined a similar approach of rewarding good practices with incentives, discussing how the administration aims to entice landlords to retrofit their buildings with more energy efficient technology by showing them when and how it can be most cost effective. Mesa said the city expects about 80 percent of the 1 million buildings standing today will remain in 2050, so its “retrofit accelerator” initiative will be key in meeting its goal of cutting the city’s 2005 greenhouse gas emission rates by 80 percent in the next 35 years.

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