Groundhog-fumbling New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio observed Earth Day this year by unveiling OneNYC, a beefed-up and rebranded take on PlaNYC, the multi-initiative long-term sustainability plan introduced by de Blasio’s predecessor, Michael Bloomberg, in 2007.

Just as OneNYC’s full name — “One New York: The Plan for a Strong and Just New York” — is a mouthful, de Blasio’s vision is a loaded one that, most notably, also addresses issues of income inequality and affordable housing. While Bloomberg’s PlaNYC, heralded for its aggressive approach to curbing greenhouse gas emissions, was primarily environmental in scope, OneNYC adds economic sustainability into the proverbial pot to help ensure that the nation’s largest city isn’t just clean, green and resilient as it marches into the future. It also envisions a city where absentee oligarchs don’t dictate real estate.

Elaborates a press release issued by the Office of the Mayor: "Growth, sustainability, and resiliency remain at the core of OneNYC — but with the poverty rate remaining high and income inequality continuing to grow, the de Blasio administration added equity as a guiding principle throughout the plan."

In total, the 332-page plan introduces a whopping 200 new initiatives to the framework established by the Bloomberg administration while setting “over 80 specific new metrics and targets.”

The goal that’s by far been getting the most Earth Day-centric attention is an environmental one that falls under “Our Sustainable City,” the third of four comprehensive “visions” that comprise OneNYC. It’s an incredibly bold — some would say bananas — goal that tasks the notoriously trash-challenged city to reduce its waste output by 90 percent by the year 2030.

In turn, New York City would be the largest city in the Western Hemisphere to take on such an effort, an effort that would see the amount of waste generated by New Yorkers reduced by 3 million tons, relative to the 3.6 million tons of refuse generated in 2005.

Thanks to slow-to-take-shape recycling initiatives established over the past 10 years, the Big Apple has modestly managed to trim its “waste line." Meanwhile, other major cities — largely, but not exclusively, on the West Coast — have run laps around New York City in their own waste reduction goals. In fact, New York City’s recycling rate of 15 percent is less than half the nationwide average of 34 percent.

Under de Blasio’s Zero Waste goal, the city would stop sending waste to landfills altogether within the next 15 years.

The thing is, and not all New Yorkers are aware of this, said landfills aren’t even in the city. Since 2001, when the city shuttered the last remaining dump located within the five boroughs, the 2,200-acre Fresh Kills Landfill, all Big Apple-produced garbage has been exported out of state to landfills in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, South Carolina and beyond. Even the organic waste collected through the city’s pilot curbside composting program is hauled outside of city limits.

Under OneNYC, virtually all garbage exporting, an activity that currently costs the city upwards of $350 million annually, would cease.

Some amount of non-recyclable/compostable trash would still be generated under the Zero Waste scheme. That’s unavoidable. This dramatically decreased amount of waste, however, would not be sent out of state to become another community’s problem. It would stay.

“The whole system was built on a bankrupt idea — that you produce a huge amount of waste and you go send it to a landfill in another state. That is ludicrous,” remarked de Blasio during yesterday’s press conference in the Hunts Point section of the Bronx. “The whole notion of a society based on constantly increasing waste and then putting it into a truck or a barge or a train and sending it somewhere else — you dig a big hole in the ground, you put the waste in the ground — that is outrageous and is outdated, and we’re not going to be party to it.”

Bill de Blasio's unveils OneNYC, a long-term sustainability plan on Earth Day 2015

The OneNYC plan expands the Bloomberg administration's long-term sustainability goals. (Photo: nycmayorsoffice/flickr)

The Zero Waste goal of OneNYC’s “Vision 3,” would be achieved in part through various initiatives, many of which simplify instead of complicate the city’s existing waste management approach. They include: unrolling the city’s existing organic waste pickup program citywide by 2018; moving to a single-stream model for the existing curbside recycling program by 2020; reducing commercial waste disposal by 2030; putting the kibosh on single-use plastic bags, Styrofoam packaging and other non-recyclables; instituting zero waste program in city schools; expanding recycling programs for “specialty” waste such as electronics and textiles; and, last but not least, giving all New Yorkers, including residents living in public housing, the opportunity to decrease their waste footprints.

De Blasio himself understands that such an ambitious — and applaudable — battle plan for waste reduction is a prime target for naysayers and skeptics, especially considering the city’s historically sluggish approach to landfill diversion. In the scheme of things, fifteen years isn't a long time to catch up with, let's say, a waste-diverting powerhouse like San Francisco. “Look, I don’t blame anyone that’s cynical, he said. “I represent 8.5 million jaded people.”

He also admits that striving toward Zero Waste will be anything but easy: “It will be a hard effort. It’s going to take a lot of resources. It’s going to take a lot of public education. It’s going to take a lot of community organizing. But this is the way of the future if we’re going to save our earth.”

While de Blasio’s Zero Waste agenda — and OneNYC as a whole — does already have its fair share of critics, those leery of the plan's sweeping, aspirational approach, others are more than supportive including Eric Goldstein, New York City Environment Director at the Natural Resources Defense Council:

This is a broad and ambitious plan to make New York a more sustainable city and a better place to live. Perhaps most notably, this is the first time ever the City’s sustainability plan approaches these issues through an equity lens. That’s key because many urban environmental problems, including climate change, hit poor and working class New Yorkers the hardest. Critical to this plan’s success, of course, will be putting it into action. We look forward to working with the de Blasio administration to accomplish that objective.

In addition to Zero Waste, other environment-minded goals detailed under Vision 3 — the vision itself is: “New York City will be the most sustainable big city in the world and a global leader in the fight against climate change” — of OneNYC include:

  • Reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent compared to their 2005 levels by the year 2050.
  • Improving air quality so that it’s the cleanest of all large U.S. cities by 2030.
  • Cleaning up dozens of contaminated brownfield sites across the five boroughs and rendering them “safe and beneficial.”
  • Improving the city’s existing water management scheme to better conserve water and tackle issues such as stormwater management and water contamination.
  • Providing the city’s expanding population with additional, improved and expanded parks and open spaces.

Lots more info at OneNYC. Any initial thoughts?

Via [The Observer]

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Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.