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Recycling bins are the victim in Syracuse v. NYS

Syracuse city officials want to install recycling containers downtown. But the state is making it hard to do so.
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Syracuse city officials want to install recycling containers downtown. But the state is making it hard to do so.

Many cities across the U.S. have recycling containers to go along with trash bins on corners and in parks. In fact, it’s almost expected in this era of sustainability and promoting a clean environment.

So it’s no wonder that residents of Syracuse who visit downtown notice the lack of recycling containers around the city.

"I ain’t never seen no recycle bins down here. Never," says Nicole Williams, a mother waiting for a bus. 


When Williams has a piece of recycling, it just goes into the trash. And she’s no the only one.

"We mostly see everyone else throwing it there," Williams says. "They need to get some recycling bins though, that’d be good, to put right next to the trash."

Syracuse has considered the very thing that Williams suggests. So what's the hold up?

The city doesn’t have the money.

Well, at least not money to implement a recycling program. So Andrew Maxwell, Syracuse's Director of Planning and Sustainability sought out a fix. He found a company that would install bins with ads on them, to offset the cost. 

Of course, this being New York, there's a twist: there's a law that states that municipalities are prohibited from advertising in the "public right away." City attorneys interpret that to mean that recycling containers covered with ads on city corners would be illegal.

But it turns out the twist has a twist: the state is willing to making exceptions, if the money raised goes to a "greater public benefit." That’s what happened in the Hudson Valley city of Kingston several years ago. City lawyers wrote to the attorney general's office about bus ads. The AG’s office wrote back, with an informal opinion saying that Kingston could proceed.

Given that precedent, Syracuse’s Planning Director Andrew Maxwell says it would be tempting to push ahead, and not even bother with getting explicit permission from the state - the public benefit (a greener city, additional revenues) is obvious.

But that looks unlikely to happen. Maxwell says the city has bigger issues on its plate and wants to maintain a good relationship with the state as it pushes for projects like a new public authority to run the airport.

So for now if you're looking to recycle in downtown Syracuse you're on your own: schlep it home, or toss it in the trash.


Innovation Trail alumnus Ryan Morden is originally from Seattle. He graduated from the University of Washington with a bachelor's in journalism, minoring in political science and Scandinavian studies. Morden was Morning Edition producer and reporter at WRVO before moving over to the Innovation Trail project. Before landing at WRVO, Morden covered the Washington State legislature as a correspondent for Northwest News Network (N3), a group of nine NPR affiliates in the northwest.
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