Tuesday, May 11, 2010

All Wet Waste

Crain's Insider reports (subsc only) on the problem that the city is having with composting organic waste-and the controversy is mind boggling considering the fact that the mayor and council leadership conspired to kill the proposed pilot program legislation for food waste that had 33 co-sponsors: "The carting industry is trying to beat back a City Council proposal that intends to increase composting of food waste but would quite possibly have the opposite effect. Legislation that insiders say emanated from Council Speaker Christine Quinn's office calls for a study of the issue and asks the Bloomberg administration to consider reducing the rate that carters can charge businesses to collect food waste."

Let's tell it like it is-the collection and composting of food waste is, well, a colossal waste of time and money; it isn't economically feasible today, or at anytime. But the proposal for food waste disposers would have obviated the need to collect this expensive waste and reduced truck traffic, both in the neighborhoods and at local transfer stations. Instead, the council sandbagged the pilot and in its collusion with the mayor hatched a solid waste plan that Gotham Gazette has rightly labeled a big fat failure.

As we commented last week-referencing an earlier post from five years ago: "As part of the Mayor’s Solid Waste Management Program he is required to address how to increase the level of recycling. In the DOS report the administration’s proposals are called “groundbreaking” (bottom of page two) but in reality they are anything but. Aside from the usual refuge of the clueless: “better education,” there is absolutely nothing said on how to enhance recycling activity. In fact, the only way these proposals could be called groundbreaking is if the mayor is digging with a plastic spoon."

But the mayor was more interested in his fair share plan-and in giving then speaker Gifford Miller a black eye with a transfer station right in his East Side district. So instead of reducing waste for every community, we got a plan that made sure everyone suffered equally-and, in the end, even that plan hasn't worked because there hasn't been any waste reduction achieved at all.

But now the council, having fallen in its wet waste five years ago, wants to mandate composting by reinventing the laws of economics. As Crain's points out: "If they lowered the rate cap, we would in all likelihood have to stop providing the service,” says Ron Bergamini, chief executive of Action Carting. Carters offer food composting at the request of their customers—typically restaurants trying to be eco-friendly—but the profit margins are small. While it is cheaper to dump food waste at a composting facility than at a transfer station, the transportation costs are higher because the composting facilities are in New Jersey and Connecticut."

Because organic garbage is heavy! Duh! And it's so much cheaper to reduce it at the source with fwds-something that municipalities all over the country have permitted restaurants and food stores to do with no ill effects to their sewage treatment facilities. Crain's goes on to make an even sillier suggestion: "Industry insiders say if the council wants to increase composting, it should facilitate the practice at transfer stations. But that would likely meet political resistance in minority neighborhoods, where transfer stations tend to be located."

A composting facility, for those who don't know, is nothing but a dump with better public relations-but the stench is just the same. Environmental justice should dictate the use of disposers that would reduce the activity at local transfer stations, while simultaneously insuring that local food stores and restaurants were cleaner. Diesel spewing truck traffic would also be reduced.

But Crain's doesn't see food waste disposers as an option: "The idea of lowering the rate cap seems to have been shelved for the moment. Council Speaker Christine Quinn has been burnishing her recycling credentials lately, so the effort is likely to return in another form. But it probably won't include legalizing the commercial use of food waste disposers. A Department of Environmental Protection study poured cold water on the idea a year ago, and there has been no progress on the issue since then, an industry lobbyist says."

Let's be very clear about the so-called DEP study-it's as full of drek as the city sewers. It's the only agency that claimed it could better analyze the impact of disposers in a study that eschewed the collection of empirical data-as the proposed pilot program would have.  As we have pointed out time and time again: "Given the DEP's publicly expressed hostility to the use of the device it makes no sense for the council to give the agency carte blanche. After all, in a letter to the sponsors of Intro 133 Commissioner Lloyd, obviously vying for a Noble Prize in Science, claimed that she had a more "scientific" method to study fwds than an empirically grounded pilot program. How will the agency sponsored study go beyond this expressed bias? Keep in mind that the Council mandated commercial waste study not only never bothered to include an evaluation of fwds, it also concluded that the clustering of transfer stations in certain neighborhoods had no negative impact on those communities. The study was ignored by all in the adoption of the SWMP."

So, mirabile dictu, the DEP "study" concluded that fwds were too injurious to the waste water infrastructure-and, given the lame results of the mayor's SWMP, isn't it time for the city council to get a second opinion? Re-instituting the pilot program for disposers-even though the Alliance is its biggest supporters-would do more to not only burnish the speaker's recycling credentials than any other policy initiative, it would also promote supermarket retention as well (a major goal of the speaker's).

We'll give ourselves the last word: "Disposers would dramatically reduce the extant food waste that attracts these vermin-yet it appears that the DEP has elided any substantive discussion of this benefit. Instead, the agency has wasted time and money in a self serving effort to prevent the implementation of a promising technology, one that could help supermarkets and green grocers to become more profitable while enabling neighborhoods to become more environmentally friendly.

With supermarkets disappearing, and the city intent on providing neighborhoods with better access to fruits and vegetables, it is time to alleviate the DEP of any deep thinking on this important question-and move swiftly towards the implementation of a disposer pilot. The reality is that there is nothing that comes out of this agency that can be believed, and until it is overhauled more responsible folks should be put in charge of this crucial waste disposal question."