Posted by: UrbanGreenGirl | May 10, 2009

New York, Washington DC & Phoenix, still no public recycling!

As I’ve written before, recycling is not the answer; rather, the focus should be on reducing waste in the first place. However, in certain circumstances, like when you’re travelling in urban centres, it’d be nice to be able to recycle your water bottle rather than throw it out.

I recently made a few trips south of the border to New York, Washington DC and Phoenix and was greatly disappointed by the lack of recycling bins in the downtown areas for glass and plastic bottles.

Daily Manhattan garbage

Absolutely unacceptable - Manhattan garbage

Let’s start off with New York City, an avant-garde city that starts positive trends. Yet, I was horrified by the amount of waste that was thrown out each night in front of boutiques and restaurants, not to mention, the lack of recycling bins throughout Manhattan. I remember asking an employee at Burger King (yes, I ate there but I had the veggie burger) where I could recycle my water bottle and the girl looked at me like I was crazy!

I stayed at an awesome boutique hotel called the Room Mate Grace right in the heart of Times Square. Everything was exceptional about this hotel except for 2 things, the amount of waste thrown out from their free-continental breakfast (plastic plates and cutlery) and the absence of recycling facilities for guests. First off, isn’t it more economical for a hotel to invest in non-disposable dishes? And second, why couldn’t they offer recycling services for their guests?  Recycling is available afterall in Manhattan for residences, why not hotels? After returning home, I emailed the hotel explaining my experience, starting off with the positive of course, but concluding with the fact that it’s now 2009 and that they need to get on board with a sustainable mission or they won’t succeed.

Phoenix cacti

Phoenix cacti

Next up on my trip, Phoenix, Arizona. How I love this place; the desert, the pink soil, the cacti, the red mountains, the flowers – I find it so serene.

When I was 19, I had the opportunity  to do an exchange there for school. The complex where I lived didn’t have recycling facilities and this was very difficult for me considering I had already been recycling for 9 years. I would instinctively wash the tin cans out and lay them to dry only to realise, I had to throw them out. Frustrated, I told my host mom that I wanted to talk to the complex owner to get them to install recycling bins for all the residents. I was met with fierce criticism that I was risking my host mom’s reputation in the complex. It was clear that keeping the peace amongst the neighbours was more important then saving the environment.

Well, 10 years later I revisited Phoenix and guess what, that condo complex STILL does not recycle. My girlfriend Nicky also can’t recycle in her condo complex. She actually saves up her recycling then drops it off at her parents house in Scottsdale once a week where facilities are available. Talk about dedication, but what does it say about society when we have to drive 20km to recycle?

Lack of recycling in DC

Lack of recycling in DC

Last but not least, Washington DC. The inspiration for this trip came after I saw Thievery Corporation perform live in Montreal; I just had to visit their Eighteenth Street Lounge to continue the experience. A friend was flying in for a conference and voilà, this trip was planned ad hoc.  I didn’t know what to expect but I was pleasantly surprised by the perfect weather, Cherry blossoms, flowers, friendly people and European charm. The Washington Monument reminded me so much of the Trocadero in Paris (Eiffel Tower). What I was not expecting, however, was the absence of public recycling bins in the nation’s capital city! All I saw were overflowing garbage cans filled with 100% recyclable water and juice bottles. Ugh! Even in front of the White House. I think I should tweet Obama about this!

*May 11th 2009- See update below

Public recycling bin in urban centres (Leslie Young/CBC)

Public recycling bin in urban centres (Leslie Young/CBC)

Now I know where I live in Montreal, I won’t find recycling bins on every street corner either, but at least I can find them along the busy tourist streets. And the thing is, recycling can actually be lucrative for a city as advertising space can be sold on the side of them. This is a win-win solution!

So the next time you visit a city where you are disappointed by something you see, write to their tourism board. And if you’re really feeling powerful, send an email to the mayor’s office. Tourism is an extremely important industry and the tourism boards need to know if their city/state/province/country isn’t making the cut from international tourists.  Hotels are also desperate for customer feedback. With fierce competition and a recession in play, they need every competitive advantage they can get, so let them know what they can do to win your business. Use your wallet, so-to-speak, to spread positive environmental pressure.

And if a condo complex or apartment building doesn’t recycle, don’t do what I did 10 years ago and ignore the situation, go and see the owner and talk to them about it. If they don’t know what do to, offer to help them make the phone calls or whatever is necessary. And if that doesn’t work, talk to the city and see if they can help. Chances are, there are probably other residents who would like it as well, but just never got around to doing anything about it.

Remember, the environment can’t speak for itself; so speak up for it – one email/phone call at a time.


Excellent news – A representative from DC Information (tourism bureau) responded to my email saying that the National Mall is getting a recycling program starting in October of 2009 thanks to a $1.1 million grant from Coca-cola. I wonder if this is so Coca-cola can get access to cheaper recycled raw materials to make their bottles? Apparently the National Mall gets 25 million visitors a year, more than Yosemite, Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon combined, and none of that trash is recycled.


  1. Yeah, You are correct in all case of the cities.

  2. I was just in VA and WA D.C. No recycle bins for my plastic or glass bottles. I was surprised and the Starbucks employees (3) looked at me and shook their heads and chuckled. Now I see how much my CA is doing to save our planet while they take a free ride and destroy. They go through millions of water bottles in a day at a D.C. event and visitors! VA no recycle at my sister’s condo. What?!

  3. I live in NYC, just a few comments for clarification from a 1 year NYC residen:

    1) I’m fairly certain that your photo is recycled materials waiting to be picked up. They are generally distinguished by clear plastic bags and bundles of recyclables like the cardboard. This is pick up one or twice weekly, just like trash.

    2) “I was horrified by the amount of waste that was thrown out each night in front of boutiques and restaurants…” Waste is not put out “each night” what you saw was a half or full weeks worth of trash. This makes it a little more palatable.

    3) Residents and business owners are required to recycle or face fines, however there is a consipiracy -as there seems to be in all American cities- as to weather or not they actually do recycle or just dump it in a separate land fill.

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