You would probably imagine that New York City with its dense 8.2 million population and towering apartment blocks would struggle to cope with recycling. So how does it compare to London and its 7.6 million residents?

Sharon Fisher, a Recycling Coordinator, says the state is averaging around 32%. In London, figures published last year showed our capital city had a recycling rate of 17.7% - almost half of New York - and way behind the national average of 22.9% for 2004/05.

Sharon works in the town of Bethlehem, in Albany County, with a population of 31,304. They have an astonishing recycling rate of 52%. This is what they do.

They collect glass, plastic bottles, tin cans, milk and juice cartons commingled - all together. They have a separate collection for newspapers, magazines, school and office paper and cardboard. They also collect books, batteries and electronic items, hazardous waste, yard waste and various other smaller items. These are collected once a week. As far as I know, all our recyclables in the UK are collected once a fortnight.

Their residual waste collection is also made once a week. Obviously we need to ask why they can do this in New York successfully, but we can’t manage it here, no wonder there is so much public opposition to fortnightly waste collections because common sense tells us that it can be done. I forgot to ask how residents pay for these collections, I will ask Sharon and update you on this. They obviously do not have a punitive system, else it would not be so successful.

New York is also being innovative and trialling the use of recycling bins in public places. And its Mayor Mike Bloomberg made certain that residents heard the right messages, unlike the dumbing down of our national recycling promotion currently being held which fails to emphasise the key points he is making. This is what he said:

“This program has great potential - but its success completely depends on the people walking through these areas. Garbage that’s placed in the wrong receptacle can spoil an entire batch of recyclables - which would make this effort a waste of time and money. So please take care to use garbage cans for garbage, and recycling bins for recyclables.

“Our long-term goal is, by the year 2015, to be recycling 70% of all the residential and commercial waste that can be recycled. This is a very ambitious goal - and much, much more than any other big city in our nation is achieving - but we are going to give it our best shot. Every day there are opportunities for all of us to step up our recycling. And if we all just do a little bit more, it can make a big difference.”

New York’s success is particularly amazing because in 2002, it stopped recycling plastic and glass because of a severe budget crisis, and didn’t resume the glass collections until 2004. I hope Minister Miliband takes this all in during his visit to America this week.

Sharon believes that education by far is the most valuable way to get the message across and said their Donating Reusable brochure introduced in 1996 has been extremely helpful and is appreciated by residents.

“Our residents are very conscious of the environment and prefer to recycle rather than have solid waste facilities such as landfills and incinerators in their neighborhood. They are always calling and asking how to recycle that one more item they may have.”

As the Americans would say, that’s awesome!!!