Thursday, May 06, 2010

Rotting Garbage

Gotham Gazette does a good job in analyzing the Bloomberg garbage disposal plan-and finds that it has been rotting in the sun: "The Bloomberg administration's garbage plan has been sitting on a shelf awaiting full implementation for four years, and some critics think it's on the verge of spoiling. After extensive political wrangling, the administration and the City Council in 2006 agreed on a solid waste management plan, which shuffled the location of solid waste stations and relied on trains and barges for moving trash instead of diesel-spewing trucks. Though it was hailed as a major step forward for environmental justice at the time, four years later many of the plan's fundamental proposals have been held up due to permitting delays and lawsuits."

Reminds us of the old adage: "Garbage in, garbage out." But we're certainly not surprised since we commented extensively on the over inflated promises and misdirections of the plan when it first came out over five years ago. And the hoo ha over the siting of a transfer station on 91st Street-part of an environmental justice charade, avoided the fact that the mayor's plan failed in its core mission. As we said then: "Errol Louis in his column in today’s Daily News discusses one troublesome aspect of the city’s current garbage problem: environmental justice. He is absolutely correct, as are the environmental justice folks who have brought this point forward, that three communities are unfairly bearing the burden of almost all of the city’s residential and commercial waste. What he, and the groups that are pressing Gifford Miller on the opening of the 91st transfer station, fail to mention is that the key garbage issues New York is facing are:

1) Cost of export

2) Waste reduction

The enviros' smug satisfaction of having wealthier East Siders experience what the folks in Williamsburg, South East Queens and the South Bronx must go through everyday blinds them to the fact that the Bloomberg plan has no answer to the crucial issue of waste reduction and, because it fails on this score, condemns us to being prisoners of the export-landfill mentality whose cost increases exponentially as landfill space and the tolerance of other jurisdictions wane."

So today we feel like the Karnak the Magnificent-as the Bloomberg plan remains unimplemented; with his "victory" over Gifford Miller standing as a poor testament to the inadequacy of the disposal scheme that passed the council in 2006. As the GG tells us: "To commemorate the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, the Bloomberg administration announced it would incorporate its solid waste management plan in its long-term sustainability vision — PlaNYC 2030. Environmentalists and garbage experts now say it's time to take another look at how the city handles the millions of tons of trash New Yorkers dispose of every year. Some of them argue we should throw out the city's original solid waste plan altogether"

So,as we argues back then, the essence of a sound garbage disposal policy is not simply spreading the pain all around-and sticking it to the "wealthy;" It would devolve from a rational plan to reduce the pain of all communities through the concomitant reduction of the garbage that we dispose. But that would mean a recycling plan that had some vision.

As GG reports, however, send in the optometrists: "By 2007, according to the solid waste management plan, the city was supposed reach a 25 percent recycling rate for residences and a total rate citywide of 35 percent. According to the Mayor's Office of Operations, only 15.9 percent of trash was diverted from the residential waste stream for recycling so far this fiscal year, and only 24.6 percent of trash was recycled citywide. Bottom line, New Yorkers aren't recycling like they should be. "It’s a combination of a lot of things and to find out the answers to those things you have to spend a lot of money," said Robert Lange, the city's director of the Bureau of Waste Reduction, Reuse and Recycling, of the city's dismal recycling rate. "We only have two tools at our disposal: One is public education and one is enforcement. Clearly a lot of elected officials are not in favor of enforcement, including the City Council."

What a shock! But not every one is surprised. As we pointed out 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 one proven disposal/reduction methodology-the use of food waste disposers-was sh*tcanned by Speaker Quinn and the mayor because of alleged impacts on the sewer system. But it is wet waste that is the ongoing disposal problem-in terms of both cost and waste reduction. Dealing with this on the commercial as well as the residential level is the one radical approach that could actually work. As we opined last year:

 "Which brings us to the private sector, and the DEP's sandbagging of the pilot program to permit food waste disposers at the city's supermarkets and restaurants. As we said earlier this year: "It appears that the vaunted DEP study of the impact of commercial food waste disposers has been completed-although the agency has been quite reticent at trumpeting the results. Luckily, we have gotten some advanced news on the study's details. They are, as we predicted, almost three years ago, totally unremarkable in their self serving dishonesty. The $1million study "found" that fwds would have a "cataclysmic" impact on the sewer system; even though it did survey ten other cities where the technology is permitted, and no such dire impacts have ever been found." So, with disposal costs escalating for both the public and the private sectors, the one methodology available that could divert thousands of tons a day-and save millions for both sectors-is abjured by stone stupid bureaucrats at the city's most dysfunctional agency. Yet this is the agency whose wisdom we're going to swallow whole?

Kermit the Mayor's rhetoric, once again, fails to be matched in any concrete deeds-and the now departed Head in the Skylar's remarks on "fair share" underscore the sham nature of what was foisted on a gullible public: "The plan represented Bloomberg's answer to the looming trash crisis he inherited after then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani closed the massive Fresh Kills Landfill on Staten Island. "This is a legacy project for the mayor," Deputy Mayor for Operations Edward Skyler told The Post. "We're fundamentally handling the way the city handles its garbage, to deal with it an environmentally friendly way and not pit communities against each other."

Fair share turns out to be fairly inept-and the ongoing litigation over the East Side transfer station simply dramatizes just how stupid all of this was. As GG reports: "One area slated for a transfer station is still trash collection-free. In the Upper East Side, the Gracie Point Community Council has filed a second lawsuit against the city to try to quash a marine transfer station slated for 91st Street across from the FDR Drive. Standing at the corner of 91st Street and York Avenue in Manhattan, just one block down from the proposed site, Tony Ard, the chair of the Gracie Point Community Council, said the city had not reasonably considered how a transfer station would affect the community and its environment — from trucks congesting tiny side streets to the health of its residents. He pointed to the athletic fields next to the transfer station's proposed driveway, where kids from nearby schools play, and to the Upper East Side's air quality — the worst in the city, according to new data from the health department. "We're not saying choose minority residential neighborhoods," said Ard. "It doesn't belong in any residential neighborhood."

And it wouldn't be necessary if there was an effective waste reduction strategy. Absent one, we get the cockamamie plastic bag mandates that will burden beleaguered store owners. It is high time to stop the building of transfer stations in residential neighborhoods-and to implement the use of food waste disposers for both the commercial mand residential collection streams. Tha failure of the waste management plan means a radical rethinking of the city's approach to garbage disposal-or at least it should.