Exposing New York City's complex | divided | expensive | concentrated Waste system
Understand the journey of your waste

New York City generates around 14 million tons of waste every year. 1

Almost all of this waste ends up in other places — in landfills, incinerators, and recycling facilities in other cities, states and countries.

Understand where is your waste going:

Type your address above or drag the marker on the map to explore where your waste is going.

Then click on one of the tabs above to select a type of waste.

Type in an address first or drag the marker somewhere onto the map.

Type in an address first or drag the marker somewhere onto the map.

Type in an address first or drag the marker somewhere onto the map.

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A complex system,^

NYC is part of a complex ecosystem of waste. For most of its inhabitants however, the waste system works almost invisibly - trash bags are put out on the curb, and the next day they ‘simply disappear.’

But the waste system functions through a variety of actors, public and private. Waste itself follows a long journey before reaching its final destination, traveling many miles and often making several stops along the way.

The journey of NYC's waste generally follows this framework:


(Where waste it is collected by regular trash trucks)

Transfer Station

(Where waste gets sorted and put into containers for long-distance transport)

Final Destination

(Landfilling, incineration, or recycling, depending on the type of waste)

Different journeys,

The waste is separated by residents and business into three types, before being put out on the curb. Those are paper, metal glass and plastic (MGP), and non-recyclable waste, also known as mixed solid waste (MSW).

Each type of waste follows a different type of journey, based on the framework above:

Mixed Solid Waste (MSW)


MSW Transfer Station

Landfill or Incineration


Paper Recyclables


Paper Transfer Station

Domestic or International Recyclers

Metal, glass and plastic


MGP Transfer Station

Domestic or International Recyclers

An example of a waste journey: mixed solid waste

1. On the curb in Greenpoint, Brooklyn

Let's take a resident of Greenpoint, Brooklyn for example. The waste is set out on the curb in separated bags for paper; mixed solid waste (MSW); and metal, glass and plastic (MGP). It will then be collected by multiple DSNY trucks — generally one per type of waste.

2. To a Transfer Station by Newtown Creek, Brooklyn

The mixed solid waste waste will be taken to a MSW transfer station — in this case, one run by Waste Management, Inc. at 215 Varick Ave.

Most transfer stations are privately owned and operated. There, the waste is weighed and consolidated into shipping containers, in order to be transported to its next location.

3a. To a landfill in Virginia

Each transfer station in the city has different locations and transportation modes for sending their waste or recyclables.

While most tranfer stations rely on truck transport, the transfer station above exports most of its waste by train to the Atlantic Landfill, in Waverly, VA, 390 miles away.

Video Credit

3a. Arriving at the Atlantic landfill, Virginia

Large companies like Waste Management tend to send their waste to landfills that they also operate, such as this one.

Atlantic Landfill is about 1,300 acres in size, and is located in the city of Waverly, VA, which has less than 3,000 inhabitants.

3b. To a Waste-To-Energy plant in Connecticut

About a quarter of the waste from the Varick Ave transfer station was sent by truck to the Wheelabrator WTE plant in Bridgeport, CT.

Plants like these incinerate and generate electrical energy as a subproduct, that then can be sold to customers.

Another example of a waste journey: mixed solid waste, by truck

1. On the curb in Gowanus, Brooklyn

To give another example, let's consider the journey of the mixed solid waste from a Gowanus resident, in Brooklyn.

2. To a transfer station in Red Hook, Brooklyn

After being collected on the curb, the waste is taken to a transfer station at Court Street, in Red Hook, Brooklyn.

In 2014, this unremarkable building received 180,000 tons of waste, or about 5.6 percent of the total generated in NYC.

3. Loaded on trucks for transport

Here, waste gets loaded into larger trucks like this one, that will take it to one of its final destinations.

In 2014, these destinations included landfills in Upstate New York and Pennsylvania, ranging from 80 to almost 300 miles away from New York City.

4a. To a landfill in Upstate New York

In 2014, 40% of the waste from this transfer station, or about 72,000 tons, was trucked 290 miles each way to the Seneca Meadows Landfill, in Upstate New York.

The hills seen in the background in the picture are actually mountains of compacted trash, covered with layers of soil.

4a. To a landfill in Pennsylvania

Another 42% of the waste, or 76,000 tons, was trucked 220 miles away to the Blue Ridge Landfill, near Chambersburg, PA.

An example of a waste journey: paper

1. Paper on the curb in Greenpoint

Now let's follow the journey of a Greepoint resident's recyclable paper.

2. To a Paper Transfer Station

The paper is first taken to a paper transfer station, also in Greenpoint. Here, the paper is loaded to larger trucks in order to be transported to its next destination.

3. To Port Elizabeth, NJ

Here, the containers filled with scrap paper are loaded on container ships. These will travel thousand of miles, mostly to paper mills in China, Taiwan and India.

4. On route

The containers travel on large freight ships to ports in Asia.

5. To a paper mill in Taiwan

After travelling over 12 thousand miles, the scrap paper will arrive at paper mills, like the Cheng Loong Paper Co. in Hsinchu City, Taiwan.

There, the paper is recycled and turned into various products, including containerboard. Much of this same paper will then return to US retail shelves, as packaging for imported products.

A divided system,^

This system is even more divided when it comes to responsibilities. The City is in charge of of collecting trash from residences and institutions, while the private sector handles all commercial and construction & demolition waste, which together account for most of NYC’s waste. 2

Most of the transfer stations, recycling facilities, landfills and incinerators are privately-owned and operated, or publicly-owned but privately operated.





Construction and Demolition


Public collection

Private collection

Private collection

Public or Private disposal

Private disposal

Private disposal

An expensive and polluting system,^

NYC depends heavily on waste export,

at great economic and environmental costs.

In 2014, the DSNY spent over 330 million dollars on waste export (23% of their budget), sending residential and institutional waste to landfills and waste-to-energy facilities in NJ, CT, PA, VA, SC, and OH. 3

The DSNY estimates that the city's waste system generates 1.66 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year,4 or the equivalent of almost 200 million gallons of gasoline consumed.5

A concentrated system and unequal system,^

Four of the city's Community Districts handle 70% of the total city's waste.

26 of the city’s 38 private transfer stations are located in these neighborhoods — in the South Bronx, North Booklyn and Southeast Queens. 6

And because the waste system is very dependent on trucks for collection and export, these neighborhoods suffer from high rates of noise and air pollution.

Transfer Stations in NYC,

This map displays the concentration of waste transfer stations in NYC. 2

Alternatives to the current system,^

Many alternatives have been proposed to the current system.

These alternatives, listed below, deal with several strategies to deal with the issues of the current waste system. The issues include: air pollution, environmental justice, inefficiency, and other environmental impacts.

Follow these links to some of the plans and alternative strategies that have been made so far for New York's waste system.

To contact me

ude.loohcswen@lodranreb :ta olleh yaS

And check out some more work at bernardol.com


"^" 1. CBC Report, 2012

"^" 2. CBC Report, 2012

"^" 3. Hearing On The Fiscal Year 2014 Executive Budget For The Department Of Sanitation, May 30, 2013, p. 2. View PDF.

"^" 4. PlaNYC: A Greener, Greater New York, 2011, p. 136. View PDF.

"^" 5. United States Environmental Protection Agency, Greenhouse Gas Calculator. Link.

"^" 6. Transcript Of The Minutes Of The Committee On Sanitation And Solid Waste Management, Feb 13, 2015, p. 6. View PDF.