Who Has More Recycling Bins?

An analysis of bins by median income

Baidi Wang

People watch a short video featuring canners at artist Siyan Wong’s exhibition in Manhattan, New York, on Nov. 10, 2019.(Photo/Baidi Wang)

In 1983, the New York State Legislature passed a Returnable Container Law, setting a 5-cent deposit for recyclable containers, including cans and bottles. That law led to the rise of “canners” – people who collect cans and bottles from trash bins and turn them in for money.

The law helped many people supplement low incomes. I collected data on average median household incomes in New York City in 2018, as well as data on locations of public recycling bins. Based on those two data sources, I made a map to find a relationship between median incomes in each community and locations of public recycling bins.

From the map, there are more reclcling locations in Lower Manhattan and Downtown Brooklyn that have larger commercial areas because of higher median incomes. By calling The Sanitation Department of New York City, an officer Mager Belinda said they place public litter baskets in busy commercial corridors and near large transportation hubs with heavy pedestrian traffic. They are not placed in primarily residential areas. Public space recycling bins are similarly placed in pedestrian-heavy areas.

Two women recycle their cans and bottles in front of recycling machines in Flushing, Queens, on Nov. 10, 2019. (Photo/Baidi Wang)