Recycling Laws in New York: What You Should Know

The state with ‘The Melting Pot’ metropolis known as New York City is becoming increasingly populated and in return, the laws about recycling have started to rapidly adjust. What are the laws you need to know about recycling in New York City? What are the laws you need to know for the outskirts of New York State?

The New York State Solid Wate Management Act of 1988 mandates recycling programs to be set in place by county and city administrators for all residents. Businesses are also required by law to practice recycling, including but not limited to, offices, stores, and restaurants.

To learn more about New York City’s laws concerning recycling for businesses, and residents, additional county laws, and the recycling culture for the New York state continue reading below!

New York City’s resident recycling laws

The current population of New York City is 8.4 million people according to a 2020 census. With a projection of 9 million citizens in the year 2030, recycling laws have doubled down to reflect a growing and substantial population. Courtesy of the New York City Department of Sanitation (otherwise known as DSNY), the ‘Big Apple’ now has the world’s largest sanitation department. (Source).

The NYC Department of Sanitation has key goals when it comes to waste management. These goals include zero waste in landfills, making New York the cleanest large city in the United States, improving snow removal, maximizing field operations efficiency, creating a solid waste management plan, enhancing efficiency in emergency preparedness, and increasing public engagement in recycling, among their other written goals. (Source)

However, there are guidelines for what must be recycled during the trash separation process for New York City residents. This list is a general guide and what must be recycled is not limited to what is explicitly written below.

What must be recycled?

  1. Specific paper products
    • Accepted: Cardboard, traditional paper, colored paper, newspapers, paperback books, catalogs, pizza boxes, paper cups, etcetera.
    • Not accepted: Paper with heavy wax, soiled paper, and hardcover books.
  2. All kinds of metal products
    • Included but not limited to metal cans, aluminum foil, metal furniture, wire hangers, old tools, small appliances, and metal lids.
  3. Specific plastic products
    • Accepted: Plastic bottles, jugs, containers, housewares, crates, toys, and buckets.
  4. Specific glass products
    • Accepted: Only glass bottles and jars are acceptable.

Products that are never accepted

  1. Including but not limited to batteries, foam products, plastic wrappers, cigarette lighters, VHS tapes, pens, markers, cables, wires, and cassettes.

These kinds of standards imply that the city of New York’s administration is working to create a strong recycling culture among its permanent residents. They are also wanting to make an impact on tourists and improve the recycling culture around New York City. However, this tremendous number of residents and visitors means a tremendous amount of garbage. Studies have shown that only one-fifth of the trash New Yorkers produce is recycled in 2020, and if everything was properly sorted and recycled, 68 percent of residential trash and 75 percent of commercial trash would not be in landfills. So what does this mean for New Yorkers today? (Source)

It is suggested that statistics like this were not taken lightly by the NYC Department of Sanitation. In 2022, all residents and institutions that receive recycling services, which should be everyone according to the New York State Solid Management Act of 1988, are required to sort their trash for recycling purposes. This also applies to food and waste management, not just traditional trash. (Source)

When it comes to food management in New York City, there are drop-off composting stations across the city. However, before visiting a drop-off site, you must confirm station hours and what they are accepted by checking the NYC Department of Sanitation composting resources.

Here is a list of foods that are generally applicable or not accepted for local drop-off sites as well as what must be done during food separation at home.

Accepted food sources

  1. Fruits
  2. Vegetables
  3. Eggshells
  4. Coffee
  5. Tea
  6. Nuts
  7. Dried Flowers
  8. Houseplants
  9. Bread
  10. Grains
  11. Pasta

Not accepted food sources

  1. Meat
  2. Fish
  3. Dairy
  4. Pet Waste
  5. Kitty Litter
  6. Plywood
  7. Lumber
  8. Sawdust
  9. Clean Paper
  10. Glossy Paper
  11. Cardboard
  12. Metal
  13. Glass
  14. Plastic
  15. Medical Waste
  16. Diapers
  17. Personal Hygiene Products

New York City residents can use this document to become a host for a composting drop-off site, giving new job opportunities for citizens.

In addition, a pilot program called ‘smart compost bins’ has been set around Astoria and Lower Manhattan. This is a new process set in place to see if public composting products will help reduce trash that is being added to the landfills by New York City.

New York City’s management recycling laws

While high standards are set for residents and tourists are encouraged to follow, specialized laws are placed and required for businesses. Regardless, what needs to be recycled remains similar for businesses and residents alike.

While residents must be given the guaranteed opportunity to recycle through local administrations, management is required to recycle. Based on New York City’s law “16 RCNY 1-10(a-f2i)“, which was updated in April of 2022, management can be fined up to $400 for their third recycling offense. This also applies to building owners who are required to notify residents of their location’s recycling products or will otherwise be fined up to $400 if necessary. (Source)

While this section may not be as extensive as the residential management laws above, the consequences remain more severe due to the legal responsibilities of businesses.

New York State’s recycling laws

With 18.9 million people currently living in the state of New York and being the fourth most populated state in the country, this number is expected to reach 20 million citizens by the year 2035 based on the United Nation’s projections. (Source)

Multiple laws have been set in place in the state of New York. This includes the Solid Waste Management Act of 1988 as mentioned before, but there are more recent laws that have been set into place. While there are 18 laws set in place, a few are placed below. (Source)

Big Waste Reduction Law

As of March 1, 2020, The Big Waste Reduction Law is a statewide mandate that requires grocery and retail stores to set up recycling programs for consumers, specializing in returning plastic bags to continue recycling. This law is in conjunction with the catchphrase, “Bring Your Own Bag New York” or hashtag, #BYOBagNY.

NYS Postconsumer Paint Collection Program

As of May 1, 2022, drop-off locations are set across the state of new work for expired paint. Additionally, any paint retailer or producer cannot sell paint to someone who has not registered with the PaintCare program.

Electronic Waste Recycling

As of May 28, 2010, The NYS Electronic Equipment Recycling and Reuse Act ensures that every state citizen can have the opportunity to recycle electronic waste. Electronic waste is included but is not limited to old appliances and smartphones. (Source)

New York Green

Now we understand the basics of recycling laws when it comes to living in New York. But, there is so much more than just recycling that government officials have been focusing on. What other projects are set in place to improve the environment?

One organization that is a powerhouse for a cleaner community is the New York Green or NYG for short. NYG is an environmental organization that funds and pursues ecological projects.

Focused solely on the state of New York. New York Green works alongside government officials and organizations such as Labella and CC Environment and Planning, Genesee County Planning Department, and NYS Department of State. Together, these organizations have created a Green Genesee or Smart Genesee Resiliency Plan, focused on environmental stewardship.

Also known as GGSG for short, the Smart Genesee Resiliency Plan is now in Phase II of the two-part process. As the climate temperature changes, New York Green focuses on understanding current and future environmental changes, identification of opportunities to improve the environment, developing sustainable projects, and following through until success. (Source)

Some of the projects involved in Phase II are:

  1. Improving flood management and emergency preparedness.
  2. Conservation of agricultural land, and natural resources, and improving outdoor recreation.
  3. Improving the resiliency of home, business, and city infrastructure.
  4. Expand community capacity in an ethical way and improve public education on the environment.

Flood Management and Emergency Preparedness

Because of the population size and geographical location, engineers have gotten extremely creative to find climate-friendly solutions. One way New York Green has helped flood management is by constructing “flood benches” beside local rivers to reduce water damage.

Agricultural Management

Another way New York Green is trying to implement change is through local agricultural practices. In conjunction with Agricultural Environmental Management and Climate Resilient Farming, New York Green wants to use cover cropping instead of tilling, have proper manure storage, add riparian buggers, and improve pesticide management.

Outdoor Recreation

New York Green will be working on the landscape plan for Centennial park by adding flood benches, improving the ground cover, and integrating ecological education at the park. New York Green will also work to add canoe launches along local creeks such as Black Creek, Oatka Creek, and Tonawanda Creek.

City Infrastructure

New York Green will plant and maintain street trees in parking lots and parks. This will reduce the local temperate, add shading and enhance the outdoor recreation experience. Water supply towers will also be reconstructed to ensure there is enough water for irrigation and livestock.

Online Education and Resources

While society turns to the internet for resources, New York Green wants to use this for its cause. NYG wants to develop an online mapping tool where you can see the locations of priority projects, provide funding opportunities for sponsors, give the public more information on environmental resiliency, and tools that can be used by employees.

New York’s recycling culture

Even though there are a lot of programs set in place to improve the environment and leaders seem eager to make a difference, that does not reflect upon everyone.

New York City’s residents are currently recycling only 17% of their trash, which is less than half of what should be recycled under the current recycling programs. More studies have shown that exporting garbage to other locations cost taxpayers $290 million in the year 2007 and some of New York City’s trash can travel as far as South Carolina.

So, what is the next step?

NYC Grow, a recycling organization, encourages New York residents to use recycled materials which reduces greenhouse gases, industrial pollution, deforestation, and damage to native ecosystems. Additionally, The New York Times also recommended installing a series of tubes or bins that could suck our trash into compactors, making it easy for residents to recycle. (Source)

Perhaps the easiest step when looking at New York’s recycling laws and understanding what they mean is to buy recycled materials first. From there, organizing trash at home and taking advantage of public programs such as ‘smart bins’ may increase the rates of people who recycle and improve the state’s health overall. It is also recommended to do research in the specific counties you live in the state of New York to know what laws have been passed and what is expected in your neighborhood. (Source)


While there are differing opinions on how people should recycle, what protocols should be set, and the cultural standards set by society at large, the state of New York is eager to place direction for citizens on how to continue and improve the recycling process. With significant goals being set by the government and private organizations, leaders and officials are making new strides to get the latest laws passed. In fact, there is a possibility for New York City to become one of the cleanest cities in the United States, despite being the most populated and globalized location in the country.

With resources such as this article and official government websites, you too can understand what is to be expected with recycling as a resident or business owner in the beloved state of New York. Recycling can be made easy if you know the rules and regulations. Good luck!

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