Global Vision | Urban Action: From the UN to the Five Boroughs

By Alex Hiniker, Strategic Relationships Manager, NYC Mayor’s Office for International Affairs

IMAGE DESCRIPTION: A group of NYC, UN, and Sims staff pose together for a photo. In the center, participants hold a banner with the logo for the Global Vision | Urban Action program.

Although the United Nations headquarters is in New York City, the issues discussed inside its chambers can seem far away from the concerns of many New Yorkers. Through the Global Vision | Urban Action program, our office is working to bridge this gap.

One important part of the program is bringing sustainability experts out of the UN and into our communities.

Because there are so many ways that NYC’s efforts connect with the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals, also known as the Global Goals or SDGs, we are leading a series of site visits around the five goals that will be reviewed this summer at the UN Headquarters.

Every July, representatives from around the world gather at the UN for a meeting called the High-Level Political Forum, where they discuss progress in achieving the SDGs to make sure the world stays on track to achieve all 17 Global Goals by 2030. These meetings have been held since 2016 and focus on a different set of Global Goals each year.

In 2018, the five goals in focus at HLPF are:

  • Goal 6: Clean Water and Sanitation
  • Goal 7: Affordable and Clean Energy
  • Goal 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities
  • Goal 12: Responsible Consumption and Production
  • Goal 15: Life on Land

On a sunny Wednesday morning in late February, a group of sustainability experts from seven countries and four UN agencies boarded a bus to travel from the UN to the Sims Municipal Recycling Center in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. Sims is the largest commingled Material Recovery Facility in the United States. For many of the experts, this visit was the first time they had ever been to Brooklyn!

IMAGE DESCRIPTION: Two signs depicting the logos of SDG 6 and SDG 12 are propped up against a plastic partition. Behind the partition, you can see piles of recyclables waiting to be processed.

At Sims, experts learned firsthand how the NYC Department of Sanitation (DSNY) works to achieve SDG 12. SDG 12 focuses on responsible consumption and production — that includes recycling, reducing waste, and more. The experts also shared waste management expertise from their own countries.

Before touring the facility, DSNY’s Chief of Staff Gregory Anderson provided an overview of NYC’s plans to send zero waste to landfills by 2030. NYC is working towards this ambitious goal by:

  • Bringing organics collection to all residents by 2030
  • Offering single-stream recycling (a system that means residents don’t have to sort their paper, glass and plastic recyclables into different buckets), engaging residents in waste reduction, and expanding markets for recycled materials
  • Bringing recycling service to all public housing developments and making them fully compliant with recycling laws
  • Making all public schools Zero Waste
  • Expanding opportunities to reuse and recycle textiles and electronics
  • Reducing commercial waste disposal by 90% by 2030

Anderson also talked about how NYC’s work connects with waste reduction efforts around the world.

IMAGE DESCRIPTION: Recycling Education Center Manager Sam Silver speaks with tour participants. Behind him, you can see the East River and the Manhattan skyline.

Recycling Education Center Manager Sam Silver then explained how Sims collects and sorts more than 800 tons of plastic, glass, and metal daily from all five New York City boroughs. As he led the group around the facility, he pointed out the many ways that the center contributes to the SDGs, including the five goals in focus at HLPF this year and these other goals:

  • Goal 4: Quality Education. This Global Goal focuses on achieving quality education for everyone around the world. With more than 10,000 visitors each year, including school children and adults, Sims plays an important role in educating the public about recycling.
  • Goal 6: Clean Water and Sanitation. Rainwater is collected and filtered so that it can be used for irrigation at Sims. Sims also uses environmentally-friendly techniques to filter stormwater before it goes into Gowanus Bay.
  • Goal 7: Affordable and Clean Energy. During the tour, we saw the only commercial-scale wind turbine in NYC. This wind turbine, together with solar panels, provides renewable energy to power the facility.
  • Goal 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth. When Sims opened in 2013, it created 100 new jobs. Also, Silver shared a fun fact — did you know that recycling creates more jobs than land filling? By committing to zero waste, NYC is creating more jobs to achieve decent work for all.
  • Goal 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities. The waterfront location helps make Sims more sustainable. Most of the recyclable materials arrive at the facility by barges on the East River, instead of trucks. One barge can do the work of 100 trucks — taking those trucks off the road and eliminating 260,000 vehicle miles each year.
  • Goal 14: Life Below Water. Sims also works to improve the NY harbor. In front of the facility, you can see the top of the artificial reef. They built the reef out of recycled materials found in the river. Now, this reef is a habitat for plants, animals, and other life that call the harbor home.
  • Goal 15: Life on Land. In addition to the artificial reef, Sims has turned four acres of this 11-acre industrial site into green space. Native plants are part of the landscape design for the new green spaces.
IMAGE DESCRIPTION: An educational display highlights the wide variety of recycling jobs. A sign with the logo for SDG 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth is propped up against the display.

These are just a few ways that NYC is working locally to do our part to achieve the Global Goals. In the coming months, we will arrange additional site visits with NYC agencies to take a deep dive into other SDGs that will be addressed at the High-Level Political Forum this summer.

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IMAGE DESCRIPTION: A tour participant, left, speaks with Alex Hiniker, right, as they look out at machinery at the Sims Municipal Recycling Center.
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