Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Garbage Grinders: Deja Vu All Over Again

The current debate over the installation of commercial garbage disposers is eerily reminiscent of the debate that took place in the mid-90's over the legalization of residential disposers. Then, like now, there was some reluctance on the part of the city's DEP and some vociferous opposition from the folks over at the National Resources Defense Council. The resistance resulted in the city conducting a pilot program that demonstrated incontrovertibly that disposers would not have any negative impact on the sewer and waste water infrastructure.

At the time there was also a great deal of editorial questioning about the city's sluggishness in regards to an appliance that was, in the words of the NY Times, "common everywhere else." In fact, as the paper pointed out at the time, New York "remains the only major city to ban the use of the kitchen garbage grinder..."(6-22-92).

In 1995 the City Council held hearings on the legalization of the disposers and opponents, just as in today's debate, stated that "all the ground up food would overwhelm the city's sewer system, causing backups and flooding (NY Times, 5-95). In response the DEP suggested that the Council should slow down and commission a pilot program. The DEP's chief engineer Nicholas Ilijic, during questioning at the council hearing, said that the city’s sewage treatment plants "were up to the job of handling food waste." He did recommend a pilot program.

The Department of Sanitation was especially enthusiastic. According to the Times story disposers "received a cheery approval" from the agency because of the amount of landfill avoidance that could be achieved through their use. DEP Commissioner Marilyn Gelber chimed in with "...the administration's position is that the use of food waste disposals could benefit New York City” (NY Times, 8-30-95).

Editorial Support

The issue of the efficacy of a pilot program was endorsed on two occasions by the New York Times. On September 18,1995 ("A Grinding Debate") and on July 9,1997 (“Let’s Dare to Dispose”), when the paper chided then Speaker Peter Vallone for being overly cautious, the Times pointed out that disposers made sense (and a pilot made even more so) from the standpoint of landfill avoidance, a position that has more urgency and is even more compelling today.

That is why the use of commercial disposers has now been endorsed editorially by both The New York Sun ("A Better Way to Deal With Garbage") and Crain's New York Business ("Why small firms feel trashed") As Crain's points out, "Prohibitions on commercial garbage disposals are anachronistic. The DEP's warnings seem exaggerated" (10-13-2003). This is even more so since we have gone from full legalization of commercial disposers to a pilot program.