Public housing tenants team up against waste

GrowNYC representative Ermin Siljokovic had attendees play the “recycling game” to show them how to separate materials. Photo by Elizabeth Chen

They say they have to because officials aren’t following through

Mott Haven Houses’ resident Brigitte Vincenty doesn’t want to go all the way into Manhattan to make sure her trash gets recycled. So she and her neighbors are taking on the challenge of recycling their community’s trash, which they say the New York City Housing Authority fails to do.

“NYCHA talks a lot about green roofs and retrofitting, things that haven’t been made into law yet,” said Vincenty, organizer for Mott Haven Houses’ Resident Green Committee. “But recycling is the law and they’re not even doing that.”

NYCHA officials did not return calls for comment.

Out of the five boroughs, the Bronx lags behind on recycling, according to a Department of Sanitation annual report. The Bronx recycles at a rate of 10.3 percent compared to Manhattan’s 19 percent. Community District 1, where Vincenty lives, has the poorest recycling rate in the Bronx―only 4.8 percent of the total trash in that neighborhood has been diverted for recycling.

The Natural Resources Defense Council observed an 0.6 percent increase in trash collection in the Bronx in the past year, despite a 1.4 percent decrease city-wide, according to a Daily News article in October.

Vincenty and members of her initiative, named the InnerCity Green Team, plan to go door-to-door to collect recyclable materials. They held an event on November 17 to educate residents about recycling and saving energy at the Mott Haven Community Center.

“This is a little helpful,” said Alfonso Dingwall, a 45-year-old resident. “We could be doing better with recycling.”

They hope their efforts will encourage NYCHA to hire public housing residents to work in maintenance, which they believe will help bring down their community’s high levels of unemployment.

But a week earlier, NYCHA representatives held a closed meeting with the residents  to hear details of their recycling program.

“They were very skeptical,” said Erica Ramos, a Resident Green Committee member. “They sounded like they wanted to help, but you could tell they were really hesitant because of they were worried about costs.”

NYCHA officials said in a statement that they support the efforts of the concerned residents, or Resident Green Committees, that work on  NYCHA’s “Green Agenda” program. However, they refused to comment about the residents’ allegations about recycling in their facilities or about the closed meeting.

Representatives from GrowNYC, Mothers On the Move and the state’s Public Service Commission also attended the committee’s green awareness event, and distributed compact fluorescent light bulbs and recycling collection bags that colorfully explained how to separate plastic and paper materials.

“NYCHA’s green efforts mostly focus on gardening and planting trees,” said Nova Strachan of Mothers On the Move. “That’s important, but NYCHA also really needs to work on recycling.”

Vincenty’s volunteers see a daunting task ahead of them. Rachel Osorio, a volunteer, said she felt encouraged by the information given at the event.

“Especially in the Bronx, we get forgotten about,” said Osorio. “This is a lot of info I didn’t know before. It makes me want to know more about how I can improve my community.”