Sorting recyclables and drafty homes may be a thing of the past for New Haven.
The Office of Sustainability, launched in 2009,and met for the first time Thursday with the full Board of Aldermen to present its Sustainability Plan to launch environmental policies. At the meeting, aldermen discussed new initiatives in recycling and energy efficiency, as well as the impact the new programs will have on the city’s budget. Though some aldermen said they were concerned that environmental impact and savings estimates were too optimistic, Office Director Christine Tang expressed high expectations for the department.
“When you see all the benefits that climate change [initiatives] provides to the community, you do see that it’s something worth doing,” she said.
Though the new office is the first formal one dedicated to promoting environmental sustainability in New Haven, only nine of 30 aldermen were present. But Tang said that the low attendance would not have deterred her from holding the meeting.
“[Even] If I have two [aldermen], I will have a briefing,” she said.
Beginning in 2010, the Office has started work on three initiatives, giving most of its focus to a recycling program and energy efficiency measures. The office worked with two students from the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and School of Management to update New Haven’s energy program last spring, including developing the city’s climate action plan. Maureen Burke SOM ’97, a lecturer at the environment school and the faculty member supervising these projects, said that Tang was very interested in working with Yale students.
“[The students] really enjoyed working with her,” Burke said, “Hopefully this will be an ongoing relationship.”
Tang said that the new programs were inspired by similar programs in cities like Bridgeport, which has enjoyed increased federal grants following its “Go Green” campaign.
“It’s no longer optional, really, if we want to be competitive,” she said. “[Bridgeport’s program] puts them at a competitive advantage … they receive more federal funding because of it.”
Tang said that the inception of the new office will not affect the city’s budget, as it has received all of its funding from a $1.26 three-year federal grant the city received in 2009. She added the office’s sustainability measures will also decrease citywide costs in energy use. Around $1-2 million in energy costs over the next ten years and up to $620,000 in waste management per year, said Tang.
In 2010, the office launched its first two programs: a free home energy assessment and a single stream recycling program.
The free home energy assessment program is subsidized by the city and the state, and is offered to all New Haven residents. Tang said that the office’s efforts in recruiting New Haven resident sign-ups for the program have been met with difficulty.
“People are jaded,” she said, “They believe everything comes with a catch, some catch. There is no catch.”
The single stream program, which does not require residents to sort recyclables, has been test implemented in New Haven suburb Westville. The neighborhood has already seen increases in recycling rates from 11 percent to over 30 percent since August of last year, Tang said. Alderman Greg Dildine said that Westville residents are happy with the positive changes.
Still, aldermen Dolores Colon and Maureen O’Sullivan-Best expressed concern that these results would not be replicated in other neighborhoods once the program goes citywide in the spring of 2012.
“I can see the lack of recycling going on in my neighborhood and I’m worried,” Ward 6 Alderwoman Dolores Colon said, “It’s not a priority, I don’t know why.”
Alderwoman Frances “Bitsie” Clark, suggested an alternative option to promote interest in recycling. She said that a rap would especially appeal to young adults.
“You want to make it cool,” she said, “These are a group of people who do not care about recycling. It’s not exciting.”
New Haven lags behind the state recycling average of 25.5 percent.