Tuesday, July 09, 1996
Start Shrinking Your Trash, You Will Soon Have to Pay Disposal Fees, and Some Global Observations
For most New Yorkers garbage is a non-subject, apart from complaining about the noise of the sanitation trucks early in the morning. The apartment dweller will do his grudging bit of separating newspapers, cans, bottles and plastic, throw the refuse down the chute and the stuff will disappear, in some dump with the attractive name of Fresh Kills, far away in in Staten Island.
But Staten Island has had it, and their mighty Beep Guy Molinari who delivered the Borough's vote to Mayor Giuliani and Governor Pataki has called in his markers, requesting early closing of the dump, and suing for it, under the Clean Air Act. And as of end of May his political debtors agreed to accelerate the closing of Mount Trash, the 3,000 acre Fresh Kills Landfill, from a projected year 2010 to year-end 2001. This was a highly politically motivated decision. One cannot help but think that certain well-established statesmanlike concepts of the flavor of "when the day comes, we will be elsewhere," and "we'll stick it to a committee to figure out how to get rid of the daily 13,000 tons, and when they make the public pay, it will not be our fault" were involved.
In the absence of a plan from either City or State governments, a clear case of non-feasance, let us, the citizens, examine the alternatives. Stay with me, the good guys win on the last page.
First, I offer the example of what happened in my home-away -from-home, Columbia County, 40 miles South of Albany, admittedly a rural area with 60,000 empoverished souls on 600 square miles of underused agricultural land. It too closed all of its landfills around 1990, and the NIMBY townships have fought off commercial proposals offering both landfill and burn plants, even though the industry offered plenty of jobs. This resulted in exporting garbage to nearby Troy. When that landfill closed two years ago, Columbia County considered sending its trash ("Bail-and-Rail") to Ohio, at a huge expense. Fortunately, a purportedly Mafia-linked landfill in the even poorer next-door Greene County became available. Garbage disposal now costs $2 for a 30 gallon bag, plus a hauler fee, or you deliver it yourself to a transfer station. Dumping a bicycle costs $5, a refrigerator $12. Recycling is rigorous, because sorted recyclables are accepted free. I don't quite see an apartment dweller hauling bags to a transfer station in the South Bronx, but the fee charges for bags of trash will eventually come to us city dwellers. Mark my words, and start shrinking your trash, you too will be rigorously recycling. But what about the poor? In Columbia County some secretly and illegally bury trash in their back yards (I found out, belatedly, that a renegade contractor buried a washer/dryer under my lawn rather than hauling it and paying the $12), and destroy their progeny's heritage. You don't have that advantage.
Well, what about giving the household trash to NYC's commercial haulers who are independent of city dumps? The 12,000 daily tons of commercial waste, which since 1957 has been collected by 600 Mafia-ridden carting companies from the city's 250,000 businesses have long been exported by rail to poor areas in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Indiana (sludge from sewage treatment plants goes to Texas) at an annual cost of $1.5 billion in hauling fees. Mayor Giuliani has had some 23 companies and four associations indicted for corruption. The carters' maximum charge permitted was $47 for a yard of compacted and $14.7 for loose waste (a large grocery pays $15,000, a restaurant $50,000 a year; and you wonder why food costs so much), and even the average charges are a multiple of those of Boston, L.A. and Chicago. The local haulers had succeeded in scaring away national companies such as the Browning Ferris Industries (their manager found a bleeding dog's head on his doorstep, with a "Welcome to New York" card), but some new competition has lowered certain rates as much as 40 percent. Recently BFI, USA Waste and WMX Technologies, the three big national waste removers, have made inroads in the city, but none of them can cope with the potentially doubled load of the added residential waste, even at $60 a ton, as opposed to the Sanitation Department's claimed cost of $14 a ton (known to be a much understated figure). And now the four recipient states are rebelling against an increased volume of garbage from New York, claiming that we don't do enough recycling (14 percent against the legally required 25, which some states have attained). Meanwhile Mayor Giuliani is cutting next year's recycling budget by 40 percent. Also, a law permitting limits on garbage imports has already passed the US Senate, and one is pending in the House. No matter how much we are willing to pay, some doors are slamming shut.
All of the above points to a whole new kind of future ahead of us, New Yorkers and, by extension, all Americans and other inhabitants of Spaceship Earth. In the long run we have to severely cut the production of goods that cannot be decomposed, recycled or reused: metal and wax food containers, rows of nothing but plastic goods on drugstore shelves will have to go, maybe even the thick New York Times will have to become a thing of the past. A new engineering science and industry, a new lifestyle is coming, to cope with garbage. Graduates, forget the dying arts of medicine and law. Let me whisper just one word to you. (Why does the tune of "Mrs Robinson" suddenly come to mind?). And one additional word: overpopulation. There will be a global attack on this root of all evils, population growth. The world is exploding because of such humanitarian activities as curbing infant death, medical research and increasing life span in all countries, doubling the Earth's population every 37 years. Consequently, the planet is dying. Ground water level is receding, arable land is eroding and forests are disappearing in 17 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. Think of the internecine fraternal warfare and destruction in Bosnia, Rwanda, Chechnia, Cambodia, Peru, Liberia, Somalia, the terrorism in Middle East and Ireland and the institutionalized crime in Russia, Philippines and other marginal democracies. Much of these are attributable to the underlying causes of the shrinking means of earning a living, by far too many people driven off the land and into the cities, fired up by the surface causes of religion and ethnicity.
I offer a generous gift to the Mayor's committee of 12 professionals charged with pulling the rabbit out of the hat by October 1, an idea that will save this country and potentially the world from suffocating in its own refuse: have New York buy a small West African oceanside country and convert it into the next Fresh Kills. Take a country that has no water, no remaining industry, where the people are killing each other and the government is corrupt, such as Liberia. Henry Kissinger should be able to do a deal. This purchase would be a truly humanitarian act of mercy, stopping the wars and providing employment forever. It will spawn side industries: New York's garbage is rich in discarded blue jeans and Ralph Lauren polo shirts that can be re-exported to Canal Street for a nice profit.
Further, convert dangerous leaking oil tankers into trash haulers, instead of letting them be stripped and rot on Pakistan's shores. Make the New York's garbage barges sea-worthy, reviving Brooklyn's Navy Yard. (I would not give the job to Staten Island, they had their chance at secession and a lifelong holdup of the four boroughs by escalating the Fresh Kills tipping fees so that no Staten Islander, man, woman or child would ever have to have a job and could live off the garbage revenue. But they blew it. Tough.)
This venture will revive our city: brokering landfill deals with other cities, states and countries desperate with garbage will make New York, Inc. a rich business enterprise. The great financial center will boom, providing employment and new tax revenue. New York will not only balance the budget but also pay its Medicaid bills. City patronage jobs will come back.
Of course, you cannot just buy a country any more, only cocaine dealers can do it. You rent it on a hundred year lease with option to renew, net net. But if Africa does not cooperate - though they make short shrift of NIMBYs, think of Nigeria - I have a fallback option: buy one of those immense Air Force or Army bases that is about to close, or a bombing range. New York's garbage must be a lot better neighbor than explosives, atomic or conventional.
I rest my case. Remember you heard of it here first.
More of the Dobelis Plan and other life-and-death garbage matters soon. NIMBY stands for "Not In My Back Yard," a well-established name for protesters against encroachments of various kinds. This is not to be confused with SIMBY, or "Stay In My Back Yard," a name given by the New York Times editorial page writers in 1987 or thereabouts to Wally's Committee to Save the Police Academy (CSPA).
Some facts: The Sanitation Department has a budget of $575 million for the upcoming year; there are 7,200 uniformed members of a total staff of 9,800. Of the 6,000 vehicles 2,000 are for collections, 1,000 are out in the streets daily.
Wally Dobelis thanks Assistant Commissioner Lucian Chalsen for the information.
2200 vs 3000
No matter how the garbage situation resulting fron the closing of the Fresh Kills Landfill 5 1/2 years from now is resolved, the citizens will pay.
Fresh Kills today processes over 13,000 tons of garbage daily. That is often expressed as 27,000,000 pounds, over three pounds for every man, woman and child in the city. That does not include the New York Times and other recycled material.
The 3,000 acre landfill, the size of 225 Yankee Stadiums, has some mountains of garbage as high as 20 stories, covered with dirt and grass. Fresh dumping is covered fast, cutting down on the gulls population's breakfast. But there is a decomposition process, emitting methane gas (about 1/20 of the national emissions), 5 percent of which is captured and converted to fuel use. Nevertheless, the odor persists. There is also leachage,
since the 48-year ol dump has noliner, and rainwater brings solubles with some toxins into the surrounding waterways.
This is probably not as bad as the smaller Pelham Bay Landfill, active for 15 years and closed in 1978, which brings leachate
There will be less people, because tax based relief payments and school subsidies for large families will go; tax-funded research to increase the life span of the non-producing elderly will go.