the 34 percent solution
Susan Attridge talks about reuse and recyling at Dash's Market.
Photo by Bridget Houck
As Buffalo’s director of recycling, Susan Attridge oversees all aspects of the city’s recycling program—from ensuring regulatory compliance and managing operations for everyday curbside pickup, to educating residents and public school kids about reducing their waste. She’s also part of national efforts to combat climate change as a board member for the National Recycling Coalition.
Ahead of Earth Month, Attridge shared how the city is pushing to increase its waste diversion rate to the national average of 34 percent—and how you can help.
How have public sentiments toward recycling and green issues changed since you took this role in 2013?
In 2012, [the city] chose to have the expense of switching over to single-stream recycling. As you can imagine, once you go from giving people 14 gallons to put recycling in to a 65-gallon tote, the rates really skyrocketed.
But what the program lacked, I think, was an educational and outreach component. That was one reason the city brought me on board. One of the first things we did was hire a consultant to develop a marketing campaign ... that also gave us the goal. Before it was just, “Let’s increase our recycling, everybody participate,” but now we had something to strive for. It was a lofty goal because we were at about 12 percent in 2012 and to get to 34 percent was going to be a challenge—and it continues to be a challenge. But, to me, although of course I want to reach 34 percent, what’s more important is that our citizens are engaged and we’re seeing more people involved, and I do think we can claim success in that regard.
The city’s diversion rate reached 28.36 percent in 2017. What’s the next step to hit the goal?
The one area we still need work on is our organic waste program. Right now, we have a great composting vendor—Buffalo River Compost down on Katherine Street—and a six-week curbside collection of yard debris, but the rest of the year it’s all drop-off, because it’s very costly to have separate collection for yard waste. Some municipalities do it—Amherst, for instance—but we just do not have the resources for that. We encourage people to drop [yard waste] off, but let’s face it, we’re not getting as big a bite of that apple—pun intended—as we want. That’s somewhere we can still have a significant impact to get to that 34 percent.
Does the yard waste program include food scraps?
No, but I do have exciting news. Last year, we piloted a program modeled after the New York City compost program: a [food waste] drop-off at the Massachusetts Avenue Project farmer’s markets. This year, we’re expanding it to five locations between June and September. We’ll be giving out little food scrap buckets and educating residents on how they can bring us their food scraps weekly and get them composted. It’s exciting. Last year, we did almost a ton of debris at one location, so if we do five tons, it won’t get us to 34 percent, but it will engage our community and get the idea into people’s heads that food waste composting is important and smart, and we can work toward an overall goal of someday having a curbside [compost] program.
How can Buffalo residents help get to 34 percent?
We just completed our comprehensive recycling analysis … and it showed our biggest contaminants: food debris and plastic bags. People can really help by making sure these items do not make it into their recycling bin.
Then, just keep it simple. For plastic and glass, it has to be a food container. If you’re not doing anything, start with paper and cardboard, and that will really help.
We also ask people to participate in our drop-off programs, which include yard waste, electronic waste, and universal waste, things like fluorescent bulbs and rechargeable batteries. We work with a group called WNY Coalition for Donated Goods that provides convenient locations for people to drop off clothing, which is also a contaminant in recycling.
Any other tips for readers to reduce their footprints?
Reducing your global footprint can be difficult for some people; they think it’s overly complicated. One thing I like about recycling is it’s an impact people can have not only on their neighborhoods and their homes, but also globally, because landfills are one of the largest sources of methane, which is something that destroys the ozone layer and leads to climate change.
And, there are other things that are not so difficult to do. Take mass transportation; it’s actually easier to take the train down to a lot of events at Canalside. Of course, turn lights off and power down your computer. It’s convenient to keep all of these things going, but it conserves energy to turn them off. And, even though we live in a land of water abundance, definitely conserve the amount of water you use.
Visit buffalorecycles.org for a list of resources and events. Non-Buffalo residents should check their municipality’s website for recycling rules.
Matt Biddle is a frequent contributor to Buffalo Spree and Forever Young.