Thursday, November 15, 2007

Garbage Obfuscation

The entire debate around what to do with the city's tens of thousands of daily tons of garbage continues to be debated-just not with any degree of clarity. This lack of clarity is owed to the fact that the debate is dominated by folks who, like the one trick pony, have only a narrow perspective on solving the problem.

These environmentalists-still imbued with the quasi-religiosity that characterized the Earth Day movement-haven't yet come up with any decent new ideas, at least ones that don't involve thrusting more responsibilities on to stores. The latest plastic bag initiative is symbolic of this mindset; there's nothing that the stores can't be required to do face of the failure of the city's curbside effort to meet the overblown expectations of the environmental advocates.

Which brings us to the current Gotham Gazette post on the subject of garbage (and the discussion by Liz). The Gothamites pose the question this way: "Your home trash sorting is a tiny piece of the city's waste management puzzle. Once it all leaves your curbside, the real debate kicks in. How should we transport our garbage? Which neighborhoods should have the facilities that process and sort our garbage -- along with the diesel-spewing trucks that transport it? How much money should the city spend to sort out recyclables and make sure they're really recycled? How far should we truck our trash?"

Except they leave out one crucial, and ultimately revolutionary variable: the elimination of food waste contamination; an elimination that could allow for the single stream collection and recycling of over 95% of the city's garbage-without the duplication of a curbside program. So, what does the GG say about food waste?

Unfortunately, what it says is mostly irrelevant and counterproductive-reflective of the environmental "mobilization of bias" that sees the elimination of food waste only through an impractically bucolic composting methodology. Here's their take on how to recycle 22% of the city's waste stream: "If New Yorkers went all out and composted food scraps and other compostables with our yard waste, up to 30 percent of the city's refuse by some counts could avoid the landfill."

This is so lame it's laughable-reminiscent of the DSNY pamphlet that describes how the NYC homeowner can use worms to better compost. This will go over real well on the East Side in the multi-million dollar co-ops, and in the housing projects of the South Bronx where the residents see quite enough wild life, than you very much. The Gazette doesn't once mention food waste disposers-the one methodology that can efficiently remove food waste, and do so by converting it into a biomass that is the functional equivalent (although more nutrient rich) of compost.

The ideal long-term plan would be to convert all of the city into a food waste disposer methodology that would gradually remove the putrescibles from the waste stream. Once removed, the remaining garbage-uncontaminated by wet waste-could be single stream collected and separated out for recycling.

The Gazette is right when it tells us: "Beyond where the trash goes and how it gets there, officials estimate it could eventually be cheaper for the city to recycle than simply dump the trash in a landfill or incinerator. The city pays $206 per ton to take away recyclable metal, glass and plastic, while it pays $167 per ton to get rid of refuse (unrecycled trash), according to the Independent Budget Office. The Independent Budget Office has concluded the cost of recycling for the city could go lower than the cost per ton for refuse if New Yorkers recycled more of their garbage."

In the long run, however, we're all dead, and if the recycling methodology isn't altered the cheaper recycling goals will never be reached. The last word here belongs to Mike Bloomberg who told the League of Conservation Voters the following when he first ran for office: "I believe that in lower density areas of the City, food waste and yard waste composting should be encouraged on a voluntary basis. In the higher density areas, the threat of vermin and a lack of storage may make composting impractical. There are alternatives. The use of food waste disposal systems has now been legalized in the City. Improvements in design of these systems minimizes the impact upon our sewer system. As long as waste treatment facilities can assure that our harbor and bay waters are not endangered by use of garbage grinders, their use should be encouraged. Efforts by private charities such as City Harvest, in cooperation with area schools, institutions and restaurants, further minimizes waste and helps those in need by delivering excess food to distribution points for those who need it."

It's time to go back to the future Mike. We can reduce the billion dollar a year boondoggle bonus to Waste Management, et al. And ultimately, if we do, the trivial siting issues that have been raised to a crucial status, precisely because the Bloombergistas have no effective garbage reduction strategy, will be relegated to a historical footnote.