Sustainable recycling comes to Sunset Park waterfront

The views from the bridge and viewing platform are breathtaking: the waters of Upper New York Bay lapping against the Sunset Park and Red Hook waterfronts, the ferries and boats and barges sailing past the Lower Manhattan skyline, and the giant pile of recycled plastics and metals coming in off barges and being steam cleaned and sorted along a giant conveyer belt maze as workers in neon yellow vests and hard hats make sure everything is going smoothly.

Welcome to the Sunset Park Material Recovery Facility (MRF), a brand new state-of-the-art $110 million recycling facility on the 30th Street Pier in the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal that will eventually be able to process all of New York City’s curbside metal, glass and plastic recyclables—up to 1,000 tons of material a day—preparing it for export to buyers around the world.

Operated by Sims Metal Management and the city Department of Sanitation (DSNY), the facility – which will have around 75 full-time employees — is the largest of its kind in the country and was over 10 years in the making as a “key part” of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s PlaNYC 2030 green initiative.

An aerial view of the new Sunset Park Material Recovery Facility.

The facility will also support the local economy, primarily hiring locally, employing workers who live in and around Sunset Park—which has the second-highest walk-to-work rate in the city.

“Recycle, reuse, recycle and re-use again—thanks to this facility, that virtuous cycle can now expand to hundreds of products New Yorkers use by the thousands every day,” said Deputy Mayor Cas Holloway at the grand opening ribbon cutting on Thursday, December 12. “Before this year, all of those products were waste that was buried in the ground. Now they will [help make the city] more sustainable for the long term.”

“This is a perfect example of a public-private partnership that will serve to protect our environment while also creating local jobs and generate revenue for the city, “ said Ron Gonen, DSNY deputy commissioner for recycling and sustainability.

Sunset Park and Brooklyn community leaders and environmental advocates also praised the new MRF and the community-city collaboration that made it a reality.

Elizabeth Yeampierre, executive director of local environmental justice nonprofit UPROSE, noted that “making sure every borough is responsible for its own waste is important [and building] infrastructure is important as we address climate change.

“We want to make sure that siting in our community is green and working with us in a respectful way, using technology that reduces our carbon footprint and more,” Yeampierre added. “This [facility] sends a message to us that we [as a society] have to deal with garbage, even if we can’t see it and don’t think about it every day.”

Dan Murphy, chairperson of Community Board 7, concurred, adding his thanks to the community for “defending our industrial waterfront” that allows “families to stay, live and work here,” and to city officials for listening.

Community interaction is also evident in the construction of the Recycling Education Center, which will be open for school groups, tours and visitors.

The Sunset Park MRF itself is also environmentally-friendly, with the building made out of 99 percent recycled American-made steel, elevated by four feet—above projected storm surges, including those of Superstorm Sandy—using recycled glass and crushed stone taken from the MTA’s underground tunneling for the Second Avenue subway in Manhattan. The facility also includes the city’s largest solar power installation, a wind turbine, a new marine habitat and on-site storm-water management.


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