Hundreds of unusual and normally inaccessible parts of our city had their doors wide open this weekend as part of the annual Open House New York, a weekend of urban discovery and exploration. Among the many highlights was a tour of the Sunset Park Material Recovery Factory overlooking the Gowanus Bay, the largest commingle recycling facility in the nation.

Photographer Scott Lynch was on hand to tour the facility and absorb a lot of garbage information (but in a good way):

  • Managed by Sims Municipal Recycling, a private company contracted by the city, the facility handles the recycling of about 75% off all the plastic, metal, and glass in all five boroughs, with mountains of junk arriving by truck and barge 16 hours a day, six days a week. It is capable of processing 1,000 tons of material a day, and is the primary recycling facility in the city (along with Jersey City and Bronx plants).
  • The plant receives 30 tons of plastic bags a day on average, and processes 20,000 tons of the residential metal, glass and paper picked up by the Department of Sanitation.
  • Opened in December of 2013, the impressively large, efficient, and clean facility is still relatively new and was designed, by Selldorf Architects, with the rising waters and extreme weather caused by climate change in mind. In fact, Sandy hit the during construction and, since they had raised the pier by four feet, the site emerged with zero flood damage.
  • The plant was built on top of what used to be an 11-acre NYPD impound lot, on ground that consists of four feet of recycled glass and stone leftover from the Second Avenue Subway project. And the buildings are made almost entirely of recycled steel!
  • A wind turbine out front and 30,000 square feet of PV solar panels on the roof provide a full 20% of the operation's daily energy consumption. That wind turbine was the first large commercial one in the city, and Brooklyn’s first major windmill since the 19th century.
  • There has been talk of using goats to maintain lawns instead of mowers (!)
  • There's a small but well-designed Education Center at the facility, and groups can contact Eadaoin Quinn at to set up a private tour. Mostly schools do this, obviously, but adult organizations are welcome as well.

Sunset Park Material Recovery Factory is located at 472 2nd Ave, at the end of the 29th Street Pier.