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Manhattan contest offers up to $75G in grants for boro's top paper, cardboard recyclers

For the Manhattan Paper Challenge, Pratt Industries is

For the Manhattan Paper Challenge, Pratt Industries is offering up to $75,000 in prize money for the top paper and cardboard recyclers in Manhattan's 12 community boards. Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

New Yorkers never back down from a challenge — and here’s one that will make our city more environmentally-friendly.

Pratt Industries is offering up to $75,000 in prize money for the top paper and cardboard recyclers in Manhattan’s 12 community boards. The initiative, known as the Manhattan Paper Challenge, is being announced Monday morning and kicks off at the start of the new fiscal year on July 1.

Pratt operates a paper mill on Staten Island that focuses on transforming discarded cardboard and paper into new pizza boxes and other corrugated boxes. And even though it receives close to 80 percent of the recycled paper collected across New York City, there is room for more.

“About 17 percent of what residential New Yorkers throw away is paper and cardboard,” said Bridget Anderson, deputy commissioner for recycling and sustainability at the city’s Sanitation Department. “And only about half of that ends up in the recycling bin.”

The news cycle has been filled with bad recycling news as of late, including that China has stopped purchasing large amounts of recyclables claiming its own environment was suffering from the volume and quality of materials.

But Anderson doesn't want city residents to feel discouraged.

“We have a contract with Pratt and they are looking for more paper,” she said.

With online purchases to Amazon and other retailers on the rise, there’s even more cardboard to be recycled, officials pointed out.

The paper challenge, which will take place during the 2020 fiscal year, begins July 1, 2019, and ends June 30, 2020. Recycling statistics from Manhattan’s 12 community boards will be measured quarterly and annually, and then compared with their numbers from the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, 2019.

Top prize-winner for each quarter gets $5,000 with second place receiving $3,000 and third place nabbing $2,000.

The annual prizes are higher, with the first place community board receiving $20,000, the runner up $10,000 and the third place $5,000.

Pratt has stipulated the prize money must be spent on playgrounds, gardens and other community improvement projects. They are organizing the challenge with the Sanitation Department, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and the Manhattan Solid Waste Advisory Board.

“We continually invest in education programs in NYC such as The Manhattan Paper Challenge to ensure NYC residents are aware that the paper recycled right in this city is a valuable resource and is used to create high-paying, green-collar jobs right here in the five boroughs,” Shawn State, president of Pratt Recycling, said in a statement.

Brewer said she thinks more New Yorkers will take the time to sort out paper and cardboard once they understand it is being used to create new boxes.

“The fact that we have a Staten Island mill that produces tons of recycled paper mostly for pizza boxes is a phenomenal asset to the city of New York that people don’t know about,” said Brewer. “You can be sure that your recycling efforts are worth it.”

She noted recycling is not just environmentally important but also helps the city’s economy. Pratt pays the city to take its paper and cardboard. And the more paper and cardboard removed from municipal trash, the less the city has to pay to dispose of it.

“Competition is always a good way to get people to participate,” Brewer said. “Everyone loves a challenge, and recycling is important.”

One of the keys to boosting recycling is making it easy for people to sort their paper, plastics, metal and glass. Creating an organized system in large residential towers and other multifamily buildings across the borough is no easy feat.

The Sanitation Department provides free training for building maintenance staff but also works with the Manhattan Solid Waste Advisory Board, a group of active volunteers, who have created guide books, hold meetings and host forums to educate New Yorkers about the importance of recycling.

“We are the missing link, the marketing and communication that is needed to engage residents,” said Jacqueline Ottman, an environmental marketing expert who chairs the board. “For example, if you want a really successful recycling program and make it the social norm in your building, then throw a party. We want to motivate people.”

Ottman said the MSWB has reached out to every Manhattan community board to inform them of the challenge and offer support.

“One of the nice parts about paper recycling in New York is that it is truly a local program,” Anderson said. “You put your cardboard box in the recycling bin and there is a very high chance the next pizza box you get will be created by it.

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