Author Archive for Natalie Fertig

Natalie Fertig is a freelance journalist based in New York City. She covers urban politics and business in video, photo, and the written word. Contact her at

Getting Rid of It

written by Alexis Barnes, with reporting contributed by Craft II: Broadcast Spring 2014.

Pigs used to roam New York City dining on the plentiful piles of trash littered throughout the streets. Even though the New York City Department of Street Cleaning was created in 1881, garbage was commonly dumped into the city’s streets and rivers before the 20th century.

timeline by Sarah Barrett

In the 19th century, the city became a hotbed for communicable diseases like typhus, cholera, and yellow fever due to poor sanitation. A cholera outbreak in the 1830s claimed 3,515 lives.

City officials did, in fact, attempt to make plans for dealing with the issue, but corrupt Tweed and Tammany politicians stole the money set aside for sanitation. Because of widespread corruption, citizens coined the nickname, “corporation pudding” for the sludge lining the street, according to New York City Department of Sanitation’s anthropologist-in-residence, Robin Nagle.

In 1894, reformers hired revered sanitation engineer, Colonel George Waring, known for designing the Memphis sewage system. From borough to borough, sanitation was revolutionized.

Today, corporation pudding is nonexistent with street sweeping trucks cleaning 6,000 miles of NYC streets daily, the equivalent of driving from NY to Los Angeles and back again.

Although NYC has progressed in waste management, it still recycles less than other major US cities and ships exorbitant amounts of waste to surrounding states at a high cost.

The city’s waste disposal system relies almost completely on taking garbage out of the city. With New Yorkers creating more than 14 million tons of waste every year, producing 3 percent of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions, that is a lot of trash burdening already overloaded landfills in other states.

Half of those 14 million tons is recycled and reused, but that figure lags nationally. In April 2013, New York City’s recycling rate stood at 15 percent, less than half of the national average of 34 percent.

LA, San Diego and Portland claim recycling rates at about 65 to 75 percent.

During the Bloomberg mayoral administration, major effort was placed on reducing waste output and increasing recyclables.

The mayor developed a landmark Solid Waste Management Plan in 2006 in an effort to diversify the system. This plan focused on recycling, the negotiation of private contracts with recycling processing companies, and reexamining commercial waste. An important factor of the plan examined the often disproportionate burden NYC waste management has on certain neighborhoods, pledging to diversify and become more environmentally conscious.

Mayor Bloomberg also launched “recycle everything” advertisements and organic food waste recycling programs in an effort to double the city’s recycling rate to 30 percent by 2017.

“New York can definitely get above 30 percent,” deputy commissioner of sanitation recycling and sustainability for New York City Ron Gonen told Scientific American magazine. “We can set an example for the rest of North America.”

Recycling in New York City started as a voluntary program in 1986. After Local Law 19 made it mandatory, every borough was phased into the program. Although the Big Apple lags in recycling rates, recent initiatives are working towards improvement.

From January to March 2014, city sanitation collected 243 million pounds of recyclables.

In 2013, the city built North America’s largest plant with the ability to recycle all types of products from metals to plastic. It sits on the East River and has an estimated cost of almost $200 million.

Sunset Park MRF accepts barges, trains, and trucks, importing and exporting tons of recyclable materials daily.

One of the biggest burdens being addressed in the city are the 5.2 billion plastic shopping bags used annually in most markets, costing the city $10 million a year to transport to landfills. These bags clog drains and contribute to flooding.

click through to find out more…

City Council introduced legislation in March proposing to charge customers 10 cents for plastic or paper bags. Similar bans are already in use in cities like Los Angeles and Portland, Oregon. Council aims at reducing single-use bags by 90 percent.

Statewide, the New York State Plastic Bag Reduction, Reuse, and Recycling Act requires certain retail stores in NYC and State to accept plastic carryout bags for recycling.

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VIDEO: Recycling

All of the latest information on New York City waste management is available on the comprehensive website,

The site even has a “how do I get rid of…” search function that allows visitors to type in a waste product and see whether the piece of trash is garbage or recyclable.

New York has gone from dumping household waste directly into the street to proposing innovative legislation to become environmentally conscious.

Where it All Goes

written by Alexis Barnes, with reporting contributed by Craft II: Broadcast Spring 2014.


MAP: Where NYC's Trash Goes

CLICK THROUGH FOR HEAT MAP: Where NYC’s Trash Goes by Cherice Chen

Did you know there are no incinerators or landfills in New York City? The city’s largest export is trash. With New Yorkers making 12,000 tons of garbage every day, where does it all go?

Although there are no longer landfills in the city proper, there are places in the city that handle sanitation. Reporter Cherice Chen created a visual heatmap showing local dumps. (interactive on right)

Fresh Kills Landfill in Staten Island was a 2,200-acre space opened in 1947 as a temporary landfill, but soon became the largest landfill in the nation- visible from space.  At the peak of its use, twenty barges carrying 650 tons of garbage dumped its load there each day.

Three times the size of Central Park, Fresh Kills was closed in 2001 after pressure from Staten Island officials, residents and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Currently, New York City’s non-recyclable garbage ends up in landfills in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Virginia. Manhattan’s waste usually ends up in New Jersey. The diesel trucks that take this trash across the Hudson travel 7.8 million miles a year.

The states surrounding the Gotham are reaching their max, however, and costs to ship city trash elsewhere have skyrocketed.

The Staten Island Transfer Station still sits and operates on a portion of land at the Fresh Kills site. It processes 900 tons of Staten Island waste daily, compacting it and loading it onto railcars headed for South Carolina. It is the first transfer station under former Mayor Bloomberg’s solid waste plan, first approved in 2006.

While Fresh Kills managed Staten Island trash for years, controversy over a proposed transfer station on the East River has Upper East Side residents complaining.

click through to view video in full…

Manhattan produces more garbage than any other borough, but it’s the only borough that doesn’t dispose of its own trash. Since 2006, New York City has planned to reutilize an unused garbage transfer station on a bend in the East River.

Once complete, the transfer station would reduce the amount of Manhattan’s trash hauled to other boroughs and lessen truck traffic by using barges.

Bloomberg started the effort to create an economically sound and environmentally safe process for trash in the city. The goal is to have each borough responsible for transporting their garbage to their own transfer facilities in order to reduce the burden among boroughs. Diesel-spewing trucks will also be swapped for barges or railroads.

Current mayor de Blasio voted for the Bloomberg’s solid waste plan, which included the reopening of the 91st Street station, two waste transfer stations in Brooklyn and one in Queens when he served on city council.

He stood by his stance of support for the East 91st Street Station during the race for mayor.

Due to the multiple gases that tons of garbage emit, the New York City Parks Department is taking steps to ensure public safety. Eliminating landfills can be a possible aid in the fight against global warming: according to Grow NYC, landfills are responsible for almost 40 percent of all methane emissions in the United States, which is one of the most potent pollutants contributing to global warming.

Composting is an option that can help avoid sending so much waste to landfills. According to Grow NYC, food waste makes up almost 20 percent of New York City’s total waste. Composting leftover organic waste that would normally be thrown out (newspapers, fruit/vegetable waste, leaves, etc.) by combining waste with soil, air and water, and giving it time to naturally break down can create naturally-occurring fertilizer.

Compost can be used as a safer alternative to synthetic fertilizer, thus making it a great option for New York City-area farms and farmers markets.

Does it Ever Come Back? (And How)

written by Malorie Marshall, with reporting contributed by Craft II: Broadcast Spring 2014.

With the constant media attention given to issues like global warming and how humankind is playing a role through things like the increase in waste, carbon footprints, etc., it’s understandable how recycling has become an imperative initiative.

According to the New York City Department of Sanitation website, “New York City has the largest, most ambitious recycling program in the nation. All 3 million households, plus public schools and institutions, receive recycling collection by the Department of Sanitation.”

Infographic: How Recycled Waste is Used.

Infographic: How Recycled Waste is Used. by Maddy Perkins

Though recycling bins for paper and plastic goods can be found in areas like Times Square in midtown Manhattan, it might take a bit more searching to find them in other areas of the city.

The Department of Sanitation also says that city residents can request specific department-approved decals to create their own recycling bins for mixed paper recycling and metal, glass, plastic and carton recycling.

Once containers are out and ready for pick up, the recyclables within have a journey ahead of them, with many of them making their way out of the city and sometimes out of the country, according to Grow NYC. Despite efforts and green initiatives like plaNYC, less than 20 percent of New Yorkers take the time to recycle their goods, according to Grow NYC.

CLICK THROUGH FOR Map: Where NYC's landfills are built.

CLICK THROUGH FOR MAP: Where NYC’s landfills are built. by Daniel R. Lewis

For the non-recyclable waste produced in New York City–almost 12,000 tons, according to Grow NYC–it is sent to landfills. According to an New York Magazine story about city trash statistics, 20 percent of the city is built on top of landfills. (see infographic on right)

Landfills are areas where trash is deposited and then covered with soil. Many historic landfill sites in the city are now being converted into parks and other public areas, like Fresh Kills Park in Staten Island, projected to be safe to the public about 30 years from now.


New York City, as the largest city in America, has a huge task dealing with all its waste. Through recycling and composting, as well as laws and new transfer stations, the city is trying to reduce landfill-bound waste and limit pollution accumulation. But there are others in the city who, rather than give their broken, used, or soiled materials over to the city find another way to use them.


CLICK FOR: Trash Art


CLICK FOR: Fixers Collective

VIDEO: Homemade Soap


Some artists, like Philip Kobel and Kevin Mahoney, take discarded items to create art. Philip Kobel builds miniature landscapes and sci-fi buildings for war games and hobbyists out of trash. (link on left)

At Proteus Gowanus, a group called the “Fixers Collective” meets monthly to fix items brought in by New York City residents – anything from a record player to an umbrella, these men will try and give the item new life rather than let it be thrown out. (link on left)

And some circumvent disposable items altogether by creating their own products – Lauren Singer, an employee at the Department of Environmental Protection, cooks up her own lotions and soaps, storing them in reusable glass jars and bottles. Some, like Singer, have found a way to avoid the trash system altogether. (link above)


Website Managers: Natalie Fertig and Daniel R. Lewis

Newscast Executive Producers: Bianca Flowers and Pearl Macek

Newscast Anchors: Kiratiana Freelon and Minda Smiley

Reporters: Alexis Barnes, Malorie Marshall, Graham Corrigan, Scott Klocksin, Maddy Perkins, Sarah Barrett, Leila Falls, Natalie Fertig, Bianca Flowers, Kiratiana Freelon, Daniel R. Lewis, Pearl Macek, and Minda Smiley.

Supervising Professors: Rebecca Leung and Marquita Pool

Talking Trash is a product of the Spring 2014 Craft II: Broadcast class at CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.