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The Super Who Recycles Castoffs and Prevents Catastrophes

Bill Morris in Green Ideas on April 21, 2017

Murray Hill

Unsung Super Hero

Garreth O'Connor, super, in his workshop at the Penny Lane co-op in Manhattan (photo by Lorenzo Ciniglio)

April 21, 2017

Irish native Garreth O’Connor has been resident manager at the 180-unit Penny Lane co-op in the Murray Hill section of Manhattan since 2008. In those years he has achieved many things – improving bookkeeping, staff performance, and the building’s appearance and physical health – but he’s most proud of what goes on behind the building. “This,” he says, standing the elaborate, orderly shed he built to house the building’s castoffs, “is the largest recycling building in New York. It’s just my thing.”

This is not the standard paper-and-cardboard, glass-and-plastic operation. In clearly marked bins and boxes, shareholders also place their organic waste, batteries, chemicals and paints, electronics, light bulbs, hangers, clothing, shoes, books, records, CDs, even broken glass and used syringes. Typically, O’Connor sees the hidden advantages of the operation. Beyond the obvious environmental payoff, there are reductions in insurance claims (and health scares) because workers are less likely to get cut by jagged glass or used syringes, and there are reduced cleanup costs because scavengers are less likely to break open garbage bags left at curbside. There’s not much worth taking.

But no matter how rigorously O’Connor plans, there are always hiccups in the life of a super. “Every day you get surprises – and then everything else gets pushed back,” he says. “Like today, I got a call that a shower won’t turn off. Another dishwasher’s not working. I’ve got plumbers working on a steam leak, and I’ve got six apartments to check. You try to prioritize, but people get mad because they asked for me two days ago.”

O’Connor is getting ready to oversee a couple of big jobs: replacement of the two basement boilers with a dual-fuel boiler; and extension of an elevator shaft to the rooftop so the board can refurbish a former clubhouse and sell it as an apartment. Those jobs will be highly visible, as is O’Connor’s recycling operation. Just as important to him, though, are the little things nobody sees. To illustrate the point, he recounts getting an unpleasant surprise shortly after he took the job.

“The vents in the laundry rooms hadn’t been cleaned in years and they were packed with eight feet of lint,” he recalls. “I was shocked. It was only a matter of time before we had a serious fire. We had to open up the walls to remove the packed lint. Nobody ever stops and says, ‘There wasn’t a fire in the laundry room today!’ The unseen stuff a super does every day prevents catastrophes without people even knowing about it.”

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