Monday, November 28, 2005

Food Waste Disposer Opposition: Anti-business and Antideluvian

In an item in this week's Crain's Insider Eric Goldstein, of the National Resources Defense Council, announces that he is going to go all out to prevent the passage of a pilot program for the installation of commercial food waste disposers. This is the same forward-thinking fellow who stood staunchly against the pilot program proposed for the residential use of disposers in the mid-90s, an opposition that proved to be utterly without merit as the study pursuant to the experiment demonstrated.

Having been shown to be needlessly and erroneously alarmist in the first instance has not daunted the ideologically rigid Mr. Goldstein. Eric is rapidly becoming one of usual suspects when it comes to standing in the way of developing cost-effective and environmentally sound ways to dispose of NYC's waste.

This predictable obscurantism doesn't worry us. What does concern us is that so much of the opposition to disposer use remains implacably (and virulently) anti-business. On numerous occasions we have been asked, "Why should the city pay for the disposal of the private sector's trash?" This is of course one of those short-sighted and jaundiced outlooks that can only see private enterprise as a public benefit when it comes to raising revenue for government.

When taxes are to be raised, the private sector becomes the public trough. But if God forbid these same taxpaying businesses petition their government for some redress then the hue and cry from the anti-business crowd threatens to drown out anyone who dares to defend the interests of the private sector.

Now it just so happens that the private sector in question when it comes to food waste disposers in NYC is overwhelmingly minority-owned supermarkets, green grocers and restaurants, part of the 186,000 Mom-and-Pop firms that drive the city's economy. When it comes to these hard-working immigrant entrepreneurs the Eric Goldsteins of the world simply say, "Drop Dead, your health and welfare is of no concern to us."

Elitism and the Environment

What the NRDC folks fail to realize is that the environment is a lot more than the fate of the algae in the Jamaica Bay (the unproven claim that nitrogen from food waste will threaten that ecosystem). The environment also encompasses neighborhood public health. It is the poor communities of color that are threatened by the rat epidemic and asthma that are exacerbated by rodent and insect droppings (stimulated by stored putrescible waste).

This is why the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) has implemented a garbage disposer pilot program of its own in two city housing projects. This is also why the Department of Sanitation has initiated "Operation Dumpster," a program that prohibits the outdoor storage of garbage because of its threat to public health and why the city of Philadelphia mandates the use of commercial food waste disposers for any business applying for a dumpster permit.

Therefore it is no accident that the strongest support for Intro 742 comes from the Black, Latino and Asian Caucus of the City Council. These legislators are aware of the menace posed by stored food waste in their communities. The insensitivity of Mr. Goldstein on this issue is truly monumental. We find it hard to believe that the NRDC wants to put itself in this position (especially since its chief scientist, Dr. Allen Hershkowitz, has been fairly positive about the use of disposers).