New York City's first-ever recycling czar, who made waves with high-profile and contentious initiatives during the Bloomberg administration, is leaving the de Blasio administration to run a $100 million recycling fund bankrolled by some of the world's biggest companies.
Ron Gonen, the city's deputy commissioner of sanitation, recycling, and sustainability, informed colleagues by email Friday that he was leaving to serve as co-founder and CEO of the Closed Loop Fund.
The new fund will provide zero-interest loans to municipalities that invest in recycling infrastructure and will also invest in private companies focused on waste reduction and recycling. The fund's founding investors include Walmart, Coca-Cola, Pepsico, Procter & Gamble, Unilever, Johnson & Johnson, Keurig Green Mountain Coffee and Goldman Sachs. The businesses' decision to start the fund was sparked by stagnant recycling rates and corporate concern over supply shortages.
Gonen gained a reputation at the Department of Sanitation for zealous efforts to increase recycling rates in New York City. In his letter, Gonen noted that the department during his two-year tenure had increased paper collection in schools, launched high-rise and curbside organic recycling programs, expanded textile collection, launched electronic waste collection, and banned polystyrene foam, among other initiatives.
The polystyrene industry was especially critical of Gonen, likening him to “Moby Dick's” Captain Ahab for his determination to ban its product from use in food containers. He made no mention on the controversy in his send-off note, but alluded to the support he received from his department.
“When I joined DSNY with the task of building an advanced recycling program, I thought my biggest challenge was going to be getting the people at DSNY to think differently and agree to implement new programs that change the way things may have been done for decades,” Gonen wrote in his farewell message, using the acronym for his agency. “What I quickly learned was that the people at DSNY would be my greatest advantage.”
He joined the Bloomberg administration in May 2012 at the age of 37. He previously was CEO of Recycle Bank, which he co-founded, and also helped start high-end sustainable jewelry company Lindhardt Design Studio.
Long-serving Department of Sanitation Commissioner John Doherty departed the de Blasio administration in late March and was replaced by Kathryn Garcia. Gonen left his post Friday but will serve as an adviser to Garcia for “the next couple of weeks,” he wrote.