For many Americans, recycling at home is easy: place the recyclable material in the appropriate bin, tie up the bag when the bin is full, and put the bag outside for collection. Recycling is not so easy, however, for the millions of Americans who live in large, multi-family buildings. For example, in the South Bronx – which has the lowest recycling rates of any New York City neighborhood – buildings rarely possess the adequate signage, recycling bins, and layout that would enable building residents to recycle more easily.



will.i.am, Bea Perez and Michael Brotchner
EKOCYCLE presenting check to SSBronx

Last week, will.i.am and Bea Perez, The Coca-Cola Company’s Chief Sustainability Officer, observed this problem firsthand when they visited the South Bronx and announced the first-ever grant from EKOCYCLE. The obstacles to recycling in multi-family buildings in the South Bronx are significant. In the building that will.i.am and Bea visited, recycling is complicated for residents living on its five floors. First they must carry their recycling downstairs -- there is no elevator. Then they exit the building one way and re-enter through another door -- hopefully remembering to bring the right key. After walking through another area of the building, they finally enter the laundry room and place the materials in recycling bins with outdated signage. This time-consuming process would be daunting for even the most committed recycler and helps explain the South Bronx’s low recycling rates.




will.i.am speaking at SSBronx

The new EKOCYCLE grant to Sustainable South Bronx, the organization which I serve as Executive Director, seeks to address this challenge by supporting a pilot project to identify new approaches to the obstacles limiting recycling in multi-family buildings. Sustainable South Bronx, the New York City Department of Sanitation and partners associated with the EKOCYCLE initiative will implement the new program. Combining elements of infrastructure, education and personnel, the program will drive increased recycling rates in four buildings owned by the Highbridge Community Development Corporation, a leading nonprofit housing organization in the South Bronx. The project’s overall goals are to:

  • Develop a model that addresses barriers to recycling in large multi-family housing which can be replicated in urban areas throughout the U.S.
  • Identify best practices for engaging local stakeholders in increasing recycling rates
  • Contribute to New York City’s overall goal of raising recycling rates by 2017


Highbridge Voices

While getting a firsthand look at the lack of recycling infrastructure, will.i.am and Bea also had the opportunity to connect with the local residents. As it happens, the basement of the building they visited houses the offices and rehearsal spaces of a youth music education organization called Highbridge Voices. The EKOCYCLE visit to the South Bronx ended with the Highbridge Voices choir singing songs from its repertoire and asking will.i.am about his work and life.


Engaging community residents is essential for the success of this program. Spending time with the young people of Highbridge Voices was the perfect way to start a new EKOCYCLE program that has the potential to have a major impact on the future of recycling in both the South Bronx and the nation.



Highbridge Voices with will.i.am


Michael Brotchner is Executive Director of Sustainable South Bronx
.