How Developers Can Help New York City Reach Zero Waste By 2030
Take a walk on one of New York City’s busy sidewalks, and chances are you will see piles of trash blocking the street. A new report recently named New York the dirtiest city in America, but the city’s waste management problem is not new. The Big Apple has a legacy of struggling to manage its approximately 50,000 tons of daily waste.
In 2015, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced plans to mitigate some of these issues through OneNYC, a program to establish a "fair and just city" for the people of New York. In addition to lifting hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers out of poverty by 2025, the comprehensive plan outlines a strategy to send zero waste to landfills by 2030. The city is relying on commercial real estate developers, who control much of the city’s land and property, to help make this goal a reality.
“Environmental and economic sustainability must go hand in hand – and OneNYC is the blueprint to ensure they do,” de Blasio said in prepared remarks at the time.
As the people who build the city’s buildings and facilities, developers are responsible for ensuring the built environment meets the needs of its users.
One way developers can help manage the city’s waste is by implementing a more sustainable approach to construction and development. As developers mark their territory in neighborhoods across the city, they are demolishing several existing structures to build new ones. These activities have played a role in increasing the city’s waste. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, an average 13,300 SF commercial demolition project generates over 2 million pounds of waste.
"Developers need to look at waste as a design flaw," Mazars partner Arthur Adams said. "While most have taken steps on energy conservation, they need to take the same approach to waste management. They must make upfront plans for waste segregation for recycling, look to use recycled materials in their materials and finishes, plan for off-site or modular construction, which has been shown to reduce errors and waste, and design with the idea of standardized dimensions to reduce cuts that lead to waste. These steps will help the construction industry contribute to a zero-waste initiative and greater sustainability."
Many of these costs can be mitigated through adaptive reuse projects. Instead of demolishing buildings, developers can repurpose existing structures. This approach has both economic and environmental benefits. Using existing resources cuts construction costs, which would otherwise be allocated to purchasing materials for new construction. This has become more of a concern for the industry over the past few months, as tariffs have made materials like steel and lumber more expensive. These adaptive reuse projects offer a more sustainable alternative.
Other developers have employed sustainable strategies by recycling the ruins of already demolished buildings. This approach requires an understanding of what kinds of materials are recyclable, including wood, glass, plastic and brick.
Reducing the disposal of construction and demolition materials not only benefits the environment, it also has positive implications for the developer. This strategy eliminates unnecessary building expenses, and developers who donate recovered materials to qualified nonprofit organizations and charities are eligible for tax benefits. Reusing C&D materials can also create economic growth through increased employment opportunities for workers in the recycling industry.
The city continues to work with developers and construction managers to push its Zero Waste effort. In 2016, de Blasio challenged local businesses to reduce waste. Participating businesses collectively diverted 36,910 tons of waste that would have otherwise ended up in a landfill.
“This challenge proves that our commitment can be achieved so long as every New Yorker does their part to create a more sustainable city,” de Blasio said in a release.
As developers rebuild and reshape New York City, they have a crucial role to play in the fight for a cleaner and more sustainable city. Implementing a recycling strategy as part of development plans can ensure the city’s buildings serve the environment, and the people who live there.
This feature was produced in collaboration between Bisnow Branded Content and Mazars. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.