Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Garbage in Gotham

In a post on the Gotham Gazette's website, Gail Robinson references our objection to the Gazette's discussion of how to dispose of food waste: "Instead, the alliance thinks New Yorkers should put their food waste down the drain to be ground up by a disposal and then go into the sewage system. This was not an option in the game, in part because New York’s sewer system is already overburdened, and garbage disposals seem to have made little dent in the five boroughs."

What the GG folks don't acknowledge, no matter what they may misconstrue about the new generation of food waste disposers, is the utter silliness of the composting option, and the advantages of going forward with disposers. It reminds us of the old saying about democracy: "it's the worst form of government, except for all the others." And the fact that the city's sewers are in bad shape is irrelevant-the upgrades need to be done with or without the introduction of waste disposers.

The main problem that the sewers face is attendant to the overflows that occur when there's a storm. The city needs more catch basins to prevent the harmful run-offs when it does rain hard. Once built, the catch basins will handle all of the overflow problems, and the food waste processing will be a literal non sequitor.

The key issue here, however, is the way in which the elimination of food waste could spur recycling. The elimination of putrescible contaminants-no easy task we agree-would pave the way for a single stream collection that would enable the source separation that was ultimately both feasible as well as profitable to the city.

Now we agree with Gail that the current use of residential disposers is de minimis. That situation devolves from the fact that the use is optional and no one pays for their garbage removal. If folks paid a disposal fee, you can bet that this would change pretty quickly. But the question is, not whether disposers are widely in use, but whether their use is advisable from a solid waste stand point.

And let's not forget that the biomass generated when food waste is ultimately processed at a waste water treatment facility, is a better end product then the compost that comes from the standard food waste processing methods; and as Dr. Ham has underscored, is much cheaper to boot.

The implementation of commercial food waste disposers, however-as was put forward in Intro 133-would have other useful public policy goals. We have outlined them here, here and here. But let's just say that if the city continues in its current direction we will all be held hostage to the cost of landfilling-both the fiscal as well as the environmental-for many years to come.