Is NYC’s Bag Bill a Tax or a Way to Shrink Waste?

Last year, New York became the latest city to consider a fee on plastic bags to reduce waste and encourage more environmentally friendly options. The plastic bag bill, introduced in the City Council in March 2014, has become a contentious issue. Advocates argue the bill will reduce plastic bags in the city’s waste stream. Opponents worry it could be an additional burden on low-income New Yorkers and that the bill is an over-reaching attempt to solve a relatively small problem.

The legislation, sponsored by Council members Brad Lander and Margaret Chin, would introduce a 10-cent fee on both plastic and paper bags usually handed out at grocery stores, incentivizing customers to switch to reusable bags. Currently, the bill is five sponsors short of a 26-member majority. Another 13 sponsors would make it veto-proof.

The bill’s supporters are pushing the Mayor and City Council to pass it by April 22, Earth Day.

New Yorkers use 5.2 billion carryout bags per year, the majority of which are not recycled, says Bag It NYC. The city pays an estimated $10 million to transport 100,000 tons of plastic bags to landfills in other states each year.

But Republican members of the Council and even some moderate Democrats have taken umbrage with what they call another ‘tax’ by the city, which would disproportionately affect low-income families and the elderly. There is greater opposition to the bill among Council members from the outer boroughs.

A Regressive Tax?

Opponents of the plastic bag bill argue that it will be an additional financial burden to the city’s most vulnerable communities, that recycling is an efficient alternative, and that reusable grocery bags can lead to the spread of bacteria and disease.

Council member David Greenfield has been vocal about his opposition to the bill. “It’s a regressive tax,” he said in a phone interview. “It’s taxing the people who can least afford it.”

Stressing that New Yorkers tend to shop for groceries in bulk, and that middle- and low-income families cannot afford to shop online, Greenfield said his concerns are pragmatic. “It’s a practical problem. No one’s going to carry 30-40 reusable bags to the grocery store. Ten cents a bag is then $4 each week, which is $200 in 50 weeks,” he said.

The flipside of the argument is that the bill has certain exemptions. Council member Antonio Reynoso, who chairs the Committee on Sanitation and Solid Waste Management, has come out strongly in support of the proposal. “Some people say that the proposed plastic bag fee will be a burden on low-income communities, but this is simply not the case,” he emailed.

“SNAP [food stamp] and WIC recipients are exempt from the fee, and the bill ensures that citywide efforts will be made to give out reusable bags, especially to low-income people. Remembering to bring reusable bags is easy once you get used to doing it—my mother brings hers when she goes shopping now, and other people can learn to do it, too,” continued Reynoso.

“These bags are a burden on our environment, and they are particularly bad for our city’s recycling facilities. This will be a small change that will make a big difference,” Reynoso argued.

Greenfield brushed these caveats aside, calling the bill “overly-broad” for also targeting paper bags, which he says are easily recyclable. He also maintained that many low-income families either don’t qualify for food stamps or don’t want to apply for them, including undocumented immigrants. “It doesn’t really solve the problem,” Greenfield said, surprised that progressive council members are on board.

The American Progressive Bag Alliance (APBA) and the Bag the Ban campaign have strongly opposed the attempt by the City Council to regulate and reduce plastic bag usage. APBA is a part of the Society of the Plastics Industry, the trade association for the plastics industry, and Bag the Ban is run by plastic-bag manufacturer NOVOLEX.

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Under the proposed bill, disposable plastic bags would come with a 10-cent fee. Photo credit: PlasticFreeTuesday.com

 

At a November 2014 City Council Sanitation Committee hearing on the bill, APBA chairman Mark Daniels argued that plastic bags are a negligible part of the city’s waste stream and that a fee would have minimal impact on litter while pushing people towards less-environmentally friendly alternatives, such as reusable bags made of heavy-duty plastic.

“The current legislation will not help the environment. It will turn shoppers toward inferior options and has the potential to cause economic harm to thousands of families,” Daniels said in his testimony before the Sanitation Committee.

“People who are doing the estimates of the cost believe that the total cost won’t be meaningful but who’s to judge what’s meaningful and not meaningful?”- Council Member Helen Rosenthal

Calls to the American Progressive Bag Alliance went unanswered.

Activist Bertha Lewis, founder and president of The Black Institute, also spoke out against the bill, first at the November hearing, and then in an op-ed for the Gotham Gazette. But it later emerged that a group founded by Lewis, the Black Leadership Action Coalition, had received payments from the APBA. Lewis denied that the payments had any bearing on her views towards the plastic bag bill.

Environmental Justice Advocates Support Bag Bill

Environmental justice groups representing the city’s low-income communities and communities of color have in fact come out in support of the bill. “They know it’s not only good for the environment and for cleaner neighborhoods, but also an important step towards reducing environmental burdens placed on low income neighborhoods, and making them more equitable,” Council member Brad Lander emailed.

(Seventy percent of the city’s daily trash volume is typically processed for long-distance shipment in just three neighborhoods: the South Bronx, North Brooklyn and Southeast Queens.)

The New York City Environmental Justice Alliance, WE ACT for Environmental Justice, and Sustainable South Bronx are just a few of the groups that believe a fee on plastic bags would be beneficial, particularly since the bill also provides for outreach and distribution of reusable bags focused on low-income neighborhoods.

Citizens Committee of New York City, a non-profit that is part of Bag it NYC, a coalition of organizations supporting the bag fee, has handed out nearly 4,000 reusable canvas bags at public events over the last year. Last month, Bag it NYC held a rally at City Hall to push for the bill’s passage.

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Council Member Brad Lander speaks at a rally in favor of the Plastic Bag bill. Photo credit: Plasticbaglaws.org.

Saleen Shah, director of communications for the Citizens Committee, says the plastic bag bill is reasonable, practical legislation. “A 10-cent charge is not onerous,” he said. “All we’re asking for is a charge to incentivize people to bring reusable bags to the store.”

Calling the fee a “kind of tough love,” Shah said that issues of environmental degradation, in fact, disproportionately impact communities of color and low-income communities. He also believes that immigrant communities see the merits of the bill and that exemptions within it are sufficient to protect the most vulnerable residents.

Criticizing Governor Cuomo for channeling $41 million out of the climate change mitigation fund to the state’s general fund, Shah said, “We’re looking at little victories, small, practical, common sense victories, that can get us on par with the West Coast.”

West Side Seniors Speak Up

At a senior forum organized by Council member Helen Rosenthal’s office last Monday, Citizens Committee provided reusable bags to attendees. Rosenthal, who represents the West side of Manhattan, supports the bill but did express concern about how it would affect low-income neighborhoods and seniors in particular.

bag giveaway
Reusable bag giveaway event for Manhattan senior citizens. Photo credit: Samar Khurshid

“People who are doing the estimates of the cost believe that the total cost won’t be meaningful but who’s to judge what’s meaningful and not meaningful?” Rosenthal asked. “The idea is to reduce usage, encourage the reusable bags. I do think change is hard and it’ll take a period of time to get used to it but I do think people will get used to it. I think the 10-cent fee will help change behavior and that’s the goal.”

“What on earth is taking us so long to pass it? Some of the council members’ objections at the hearing were that their constituents wouldn’t have reusable bags when they went shopping. I say to them, ‘Your constituents are not as stupid as you think they are.'”

The people at the forum seemed to agree. “I think anything for the environment is necessary even if it’s a little inconvenient and hard to get used to,” said Stuart Lahn, 74, a volunteer at a senior center. “It’s something I can live with. It’s more important to protect the environment than to have the convenience of plastic bags. I’ll just have to get used to better habits.”

Retired business analyst Suzanne Urich, 70, had even attended last November’s plastic bag hearing. “What on earth is taking us so long to pass it? Some of the council members’ objections at the hearing were that their constituents wouldn’t have reusable bags when they went shopping. I say to them, ‘Your constituents are not as stupid as you think they are,’” she said.

Far Cry From The West Coast

New York indeed lags behind other cities in curbing plastic bag usage.

Los Angeles County banned all single-use plastic bags in November 2010 and imposed a 10-cent fee on recyclable paper bags. By 2012, according to a Los Angeles County Department of Public Works report, there was a 94 percent reduction in the use of single-use bags—all plastic bags were eliminated and paper bag usage dropped by 25 percent.

Moreover, the reported financial impact per resident was a mere $4 for the year (below L.A. County’s initial expectations of $5.72).

More than 130 municipalities have passed similar legislation in recent years, imposing some form of bag fee or an outright ban. Among larger cities, San Francisco banned single-use plastic bags in 2007 for supermarkets and pharmacies.

San Francisco extended the ban in 2012 to apply to all retail and food establishments, and also established a 10-cent fee for check-out bags. These check-out bags must meet certain criteria and are limited to compostable plastic bags, recycled paper bags, and reusable bags.

Seattle banned plastic bags in 2012. In Washington D.C., a five-cent tax was imposed in 2009, and Portland, Maine’s 5-cent fee just went into effect this April 15.

Jennie Romer, attorney and founder of plasticbaglaws.org, has worked with many states and cities over the last six years to craft laws on plastic bags. “In New York City, the point is to have people bring their own bags,” she said. “It’s [the fee] a disincentive. Across the country, people are bringing their own bags or refusing plastic bags if they only have a few items. There’s a huge behavior change.”

Romer insists that people adapt quickly to plastic bag laws and that 137 municipalities with different demographics have seen similar results.

Washington DC’s law is likely the closest parallel to the proposed legislation in New York City.
It imposes a tax on all carryout bags, rather than a ban, and the District Department of Environment (DDOE) hands out thousands of reusable bags every year, particularly to low-income and senior communities.

The DDOE commissioned surveys in 2010 and 2013 to gauge the effects and perception of their plastic bag law. The 2013 survey, conducted by OpinionWorks, found that 83 percent of residents and 90 percent of businesses said they either supported the bag fee or had no strong feelings about it. Eight out of ten residents said they had reduced their use of disposable bags because of the fee.

DC city officials argue that the legislation has been successful across all of Washington’s income groups.

In the 2013 survey, 80 percent of residents in the District’s most financially disadvantaged ward supported or had no strong feelings about the law. This number seems to call into question what Romer calls the “narrative created by the plastic bag industry all over the country” that a fee disproportionately impacts lower income communities. “It’s offensive,” she said, for them to think that people with less money cannot be concerned about the environment.

Romer also argued that low-income residents are actually hit harder by the cost of bags embedded in the price of food and local taxes for cleaning up litter.

“I know it [a bag fee] works,” said retiree Ellen Durant, 81, after Council member Rosenthal’s forum last week. “My children and grandchildren live in California and I’ve seen it work first hand.”

Durant was reluctant about her support for the bill, even though she understands the logic behind it. “I don’t like it but I know it’s important. I think people don’t want to spend 10 cents.” But she conceded, “I guess I’ll bring a reusable bag with me so I don’t have to pay.”

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Samar Khurshid is a freelance journalist living in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. He recently graduated with a Master’s degree from New York University’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute, and mainly covers politics for the Gotham Gazette. Khurshid grew up in New Delhi, India and worked for the Hindustan Times, a national newspaper, for two years before moving to New York. Khurshid’s last article for New York Environment Report was Coastal Communities Risk Being Swept Away by Rising Insurance Costs.

6 Burning Questions About NYC’s Plastic Bag Bill

Though it might be caught in a tree, NYC’s proposed Plastic Bag Bill refuses to die. Supporters have pushed New York’s City Council, and the Mayor, to pass the bill by Earth Day (April 22). Opponents call the bill a regressive tax on low-income New Yorkers and shop owners.

What’s the deal with the bill? Let’s look at some key questions.

What Would The Bag Bill Do?

The bill would require all retail and grocery stores to charge 10 cents per each plastic or paper bag used by you, the customer. That means if you go to a store and use five plastic bags, you’d pay 50 cents.

Certain places would be exempt: restaurants, street food vendors, and state-regulated wine and liquor stores. Also, produce, meat, and bulk food bags would still be free.

Ach! They Want More Of My Money?

The bill’s sponsors, Brad Lander and Margaret Chin, don’t want your money—they want to change your habits. They want you to stop and think before you automatically get a plastic bag at the bodega for a single bottle of water. This tactic (or, negative externality—inevitable hat tip to Planet Money) has proven effective elsewhere. Washington D.C. saw a 50-70% reduction in bag use after they passed a 5-cent tax.

Wait…Is This  Another Tax?

Nope, not a tax. It’s a charge. Consumers pay it. Store owners collect it and retain the revenue without record-keeping requirements. The City, quite purposefully, is kept out of the picture.

Remember, New York City can’t levy a tax without the State’s ok.

Where Does The Money Go?

Store owners keep the 10-cent-fee to help foot the bill for stocking the bags. This also helps lawmakers avert lawsuits: since the money never goes to the government, cities are less vulnerable to claims that they’re levying an unconstitutional tax.

What’s So Bad About Plastic Bags, Anyway?

Where to start? What about those bags stuck in trees?  New Yorkers use around 5.2 billion carryout bags each year.  Even if those bags get “properly” thrown out, they can still blow away in to unwanted places – storm drains, bushes and the ocean.

Then there’s the cost.  New Yorkers pay around $10 million per year to haul 100,000 tons of plastic bags to landfills in other states.

And, while you can recycle pristine plastic bags, dirty bags have no recycling value. Worse yet, they jam expensive machines at recycling plants like SIMS in Brooklyn.

Does The Bill Unfairly Impact Low-Income New Yorkers?

It does not intentionally try to be a burden, but the fear is understandable, which is why the bill’s creators have attempted to address the issue.

First, stores must waive the charge for bags if the customer is using SNAP or WIC. Emergency food providers, such as food pantries, would also be exempt from the charge.

Secondly, all households may avoid the charge at checkout by using reusable bags instead.

Finally, the proposed bill requires the City to work with community organizations to initiate a large, citywide reusable bag giveaway that includes special educational outreach events and giveaways targeted to low-income households.

Cities like Washington, DC have implemented similar bag fees and they maintain that low-income residents have not been disproportionately impacted. 

 

 

 

Keep It Out of the Landfills!! NYC’s Waste Disposal Options Are Expanding

Spring is here (ok, almost)! That means Spring Cleaning, which entails all of us trying to dispose of a wide assortment of items that should not go into our trash cans.

Luckily, New York City residents have expanding options for getting rid of everything from used medication to clothing to yard waste.

The City is actively trying to both 1.) minimize the amount of waste that it trucks to landfills and incinerators across the country, and 2.) find ways to dispose of toxic substances more safely.

Here are three major categories of waste that no longer need to be buried in a landfill in Ohio or Virginia, or sent to our neighbors in Newark, NJ for incineration.

1.) Organic material- one third of our residential waste stream

Spring Cleaning aside, it is becoming more feasible for New Yorkers to stop putting food waste into the trash.

The City is gradually expanding its curbside organics recycling program. Organics means food scraps, paper towels and yard waste. Residents already recycle glass, metal, plastic and paper.

There are questions right now about where the organic waste collected by the Department of Sanitation is actually going. Nonetheless, if the DSNY can successfully expand organics recycling to every neighborhood, this would cut the amount of solid waste New York City sends to landfills by almost one-third!

No curbside organics recycling in your neighborhood yet? Consider taking your compostable material to a drop-off site, like your local Greenmarket.

2.) Clothing and other textiles

You can drop off clean & dry clothing, paired shoes, bedding, linens, hats, handbags, belts, fabric scraps 36″ x 36″ or larger, and other textiles at your local Greenmarket.

Do you live in a building with ten apartments or more? DSNY will help you set up a clothing and textile recycling bin in your building!

3.) Hazardous Household Items & Electronics

DSNY hosts SAFE (Solvents, Automotive, Flammables, and Electronics) Disposal Events throughout the year in all five boroughs.

Items that Can be Dropped Off

  • Electronics
  • Personal care items like medicines or cosmetics
  • Thermometers
  • Syringes (clearly labeled and packaged in a “sharps” container or other leak proof, puncture-resistant container)
  • Household products such as pesticides, paint, hazardous cleaners, spent compact fluorescent lightbulbs
  • Automotive products such as motor oil, transmission fluid, and spent batteries

 

What Happens to Items Dropped Off at a SAFE Event?

The City says that materials collected are “either recycled, blended for fuel, or sent to licensed hazardous waste treatment facilities for safe disposal.”

Electronics are recycled or refurbished for reuse through e-cycleNYC, the City’s on-site electronics recycling service for apartment buildings with ten or more units.

Unwanted medications are “managed by environmental police and incinerated to prevent unintentional poisonings or entry into the water supply.”

Can’t make it to one of the SAFE events listed below? The City also has drop-off sites for batteries, paint, fluorescent light bulbs and other hazardous household items. Check here for details.

And there are even more options for electronics recycling. Remember- you can no longer put electronics- from mice to TVs to tablets- in the trash.

Check out DSNY’s website for more information on other recycling and re-use options.

2015 SAFE Events

(This list is updated as more events are scheduled.)

Events are held rain or shine, from 10 am to 4 pm. Be prepared for a line, says the City.

Only NYC residential waste is accepted at SAFE Disposal Events, and no commercial vehicles are allowed. Residents must provide proof of NYC residency, such as a NYS driver’s license or utility bill.

Staten Island
Saturday, April 11
Midland Beach Parking Lot
Father Capodanno Blvd and Hunter Ave

Brooklyn
Sunday, April 19
MCU Park, Surf Ave Parking Lot

Bronx
Saturday, May 2
Orchard Beach Parking Lot

Queens
Saturday, June 20
Cunningham Park, Ball Field Parking Lot

Manhattan
Sunday, June 28
Columbia University/Teachers College
120 St between Broadway & Amsterdam Ave

It Still Lives: There’s A Rally To Pass The Plastic Bag Bill

Remember the plastic bag bill?  It’s alive…though seemingly stuck in City Council purgatory.

The New York League of Conservation Voters and other supporters aim to push the bill forward with a rally at City Hall at noon todayThe rally has a simple message for the Council and Mayor DeBlasio: pass the bill by Earth Day (April 22).

The bill would ask customers to pay a 10-cent fee if they use plastic bags at groceries, bodegas and shops. The dime would go straight to the retailer, not the government as some detractors have claimed.

The bill stirred ardent emotions when it was debated last November. Supporters called it common sense legislation to spare NYC’s plastic-clogged waste-system and waterways. Detractors blasted it as government overreach and an unwitting tax on lower income residents.

Though the bill gained a key supporter in Council member Antonio Reynoso, who chairs the Committee on Sanitation and Solid Waste Management, it still needs additional support from the Council and Mayor.

Perhaps today’s rally will do the trick.

New York State’s Water Crisis

In Troy, New York, just across the Hudson River from our state Capitol, some residents recently went without water for 10 straight days because of a water main break. Other Troy residents were forced to boil their water for several days because of a separate break.

What is happening in Troy is not an isolated problem, say advocates, local elected officials, and even the state’s own environmental protection agency.

Money is badly needed by municipalities for repairs to both wastewater management and drinking water systems. Last fall, Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli identified a gap in annual state spending of $800 million for wastewater and over $300 million for drinking water infrastructure.

And these infrastructure upgrades are more critical than ever, given the projected increase in rainfall and extreme weather events across the state due to climate change.

The state has put off addressing the problem for long enough, argue almost two dozen state senators. They are pushing the Governor to include $800 million for new water infrastructure funding in this year’s state budget. Currently, there is no grant money set aside in the proposed budget for municipal water infrastructure projects.

The water superintendent of one upstate city told NYER that they “fully supported” the state senators’ fight for $800 million in infrastructure funds. The official, who asked not to be identified for fear of alienating the Governor, added, “it should probably be a lot more.”

The state has the ability to make an $800 million investment this year because it has received more than $5 billion in bank settlement funds, the senators maintain.

“This is not a Republican or Democrat issue,” Senator Carl Marcellino of Long Island, who is pushing for the $800 million, told Capital New York. “We all drink the same water.”

State Assembly Not on Board

So far, the state Assembly is not joining its colleagues in the Senate to fight for $800 million for water infrastructure.

The Assembly will be requesting $250 million, Elizabeth Nostrand, legislative director for Assemblymember Steve Englebright, told NYER. Englebright, a Democrat from Long Island, chairs the Assembly’s Environmental Conservation Committee.

Nostrand said that Assemblymember Englebright and his colleagues agreed with the senators that addressing the state’s infrastructure needs was a “top priority.” But she said that numerous competing proposals had been put forward for the use of the bank settlement funds.

The Assembly was advocating for a number, Nostrand said, which was within “the realm of possibility.” Nostrand added that the Assembly’s proposal for $250 million in water infrastructure funding was far better than the Governor’s, “which was zero.”

$12.7 Billion Requested by Local Governments

An analysis released last week by a coalition of environmental and clean water organizations makes the case that communities across New York State have an “immediate documented need” for $12.7 billion in wastewater infrastructure projects alone. This need now impacts every single county, they point out.

Roughly two-thirds -over 500- of the projects covered by this $12.7 billion are essentially “shovel ready,” said Dan Shapley, the Water Quality Program Manager at Riverkeeper.

Riverkeeper and three other organizations, Environmental Advocates, the New York League of Conservation Voters, and the Adirondack Council, prepared the analysis. The groups found that of the $12.7 billion in aid requested by local governments, the state Environmental Facilities Corporation plans to provide $757 million, just under 6 percent.

That $757 million will come primarily in the form of no- and low-interest loans via the Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund, which is administered by the EFC.

Who Is Supposed to Pay for Water Infrastructure?

The State’s lead environmental agency is in agreement that New York is facing a water infrastructure “crisis,” both in terms of wastewater and drinking water.

“One-quarter of the 610 [sewage and wastewater treatment] facilities in New York are operating beyond their useful life expectancy,” notes the state Department of Environmental Conservation, “and many others are using outmoded, inadequate technology, increasing their likelihood of tainting our waters.”

According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, New York has reported $27 billion in drinking water infrastructure needs over the next 20 years; along with $29.7 billion in costs related to upgrading wastewater treatment infrastructure.

Who pays for such pressing – and fundamental – projects? Local, state and federal governments are all supposed to share the burden.

A key problem is the fact that individual municipalities, especially smaller ones, do not necessarily have the cash on hand, or the ability to borrow large sums from the Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund. One contributing factor is the state’s two percent cap on local property taxes (instituted by the Governor), which essentially ties the hands of local governments.

Current levels of local investment in water infrastructure projects are a fraction of where they need to be, says a report released in September by State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli. For instance, municipalities are spending one-fifth to one-sixth of what the Department of Health believes is necessary to adequately upgrade drinking water systems across the state.

Missing An Opportunity?

Is the Governor missing a golden opportunity by not putting bank settlement dollars into upgrading sewage treatment plants, storm drain systems and drinking water mains?

Investing in the state’s water infrastructure is not just a liveability issue; it’s also an economic development issue, say advocates. Functional infrastructure is required for growth.

And investing in the state’s wastewater and drinking water systems will create jobs, as many as 30,000, they add. The economic activity generated by the level of construction needed will help to increase local and state tax revenues, they argue. This, in turn, will help to pay for the two decades of infrastructure improvement projects that lie ahead.

What Are Your County’s Water Infrastructure Needs?

Clean water advocates have tabulated the applications -just for wastewater infrastructure projects- to the EFC’s Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund. Over 900 projects are pending.

According to this analysis, Brooklyn (Kings County) has the greatest documented need, with pending applications for 63 projects, at a whopping total cost of over $3 billion.

What’s an example of what is being requested for Brooklyn? The City of New York has requested funds for a “sewage treatment plant upgrade at Coney Island to improve water quality to the Rockaway Inlet.” The Rockaway Inlet lies between Brooklyn and the Rockaways.

Estimated cost for this one project? $20,533,250.

Click here to read a description of the projects for which your county has requested support. Project descriptions start on page 41. The descriptions provide a window on just some of the water-related problems that local governments are trying to solve.

New York City’s projects are identified by the letters NYCMWFA [Municipal Water Finance Authority]. Interestingly, a number of New York City’s projects are related to “storm” and “flood mitigation.”

The totals, by county, are as follows:

County Total $ # of Projects
Nassau $1,871,423,843 55
Suffolk $1,968,210,400 53
Bronx $179,836,762 17
Kings $3,135,778,182 63
New York $405,059,903 30
Queens $601,488,136 40
Richmond $114,526,549 17
Dutchess $194,030,190 27
Orange $288,258,968 39
Putnam $54,765,276 3
Rockland $98,135,778 11
Sullivan $104,542,750 18
Ulster $14,828,933 8
Westchester $794,696,577 47
Albany $128,123,434 23
Columbia $6,712,000 2
Delaware $113,070,596 3
Greene $27,314,000 4
Montgomery $19,425,000 7
Otsego $27,809,000 8
Rensselaer $41,528,832 8
Schenectady $93,949,400 11
Schoharie $12,499,000 5
Clinton $53,456,000 11
Essex $50,787,407 17
Franklin $49,190,456 13
Fulton $25,754,000 4
Hamilton $6,465,000 3
Saratoga $87,996,737 21
Warren $41,696,095 17
Washington $24,622,000 6
Herkimer $27,869,000 13
Jefferson $85,545,000 20
Lewis $19,891,000 6
Oneida $520,213,596 27
St. Lawrence $77,797,000 20
Broome $64,661,000 6
Cayuga $30,517,270 10
Chenango $20,232,000 3
Cortland $27,706,000 4
Madison $29,467,000 6
Onondaga $227,467,000 23
Oswego $86,805,000 12
Tioga $7,196,000 1
Tompkins $19,727,000 10
Genesee $7,422,000 6
Livingston $23,999,000 6
Monroe $104,984,774 25
Ontario $20,580,053 10
Orleans $4,110,768 2
Schuyler $37,109,000 5
Seneca $2,568,000 3
Steuben $44,891,778 11
Wayne $48,014,000 11
Yates $28,451,000 5
Allegany $17,734,153 7
Cattaraugus $60,946,282 10
Chautauqua $87,207,470 12
Erie $243,543,160 26
Niagara $40,170,200 23
Wyoming $9,176,658 3
Total: $12,661,983,366 917
Average by County: $207,573,497 14.8

 

The Bronx is Breathing

This story was updated on February 25th to include more information on what types of waste move through the South Bronx. It was also updated on March 2nd to more accurately explain the potential impact of waste cap legislation currently under review by the City Council.

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As the de Blasio administration strives to make greater social and economic equality its legacy, the neighborhoods that handle some of the city’s most toxic materials are demanding a different sort of equity.

On February 13th, scores of South Bronx and North Brooklyn residents assembled at City Hall to hear discussion of a bill aimed at addressing the relentless movement of the city’s waste through their neighborhoods.

“We’ve had to live with this for decades; we’re going to be living with this for decades more. Our children have had to grow up like this,” observed Kellie Terry, Executive Director of The Point Community Development Corporation, based in the South Bronx.

The bill, which would cap the proportion of the city’s waste processed in any one neighborhood, is the “first tangible, real attempt to address…the clustering and the over-concentration [of waste infrastructure] in a handful of environmentally overburdened communities of color,” said Eddie Bautista, Executive Director of the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance.

Eighty percent of the city’s waste handling capacity, the Council reports, is located in just three neighborhoods—the South Bronx, North Brooklyn and Southeast Queens. The proposed legislation would also cut the amount of waste processed by transfer stations in those three areas by almost 20 percent.

The severity of the over-concentration of trash processing in low income communities and communities of color is “not just,” said Terry in an interview outside a waste facility in the South Bronx. Trucks rumbled by continuously as we spoke. “It flies in the face of all of our principles as a society, and especially of this current administration.”

Almost one-third of New York City’s trash is handled at waste transfer stations in the South Bronx, and then trucked or sent by rail to landfills across the region.

The relentless truck traffic, along with the presence of the waste transfer facilities themselves, has exacted a steep price from South Bronx residents.

A 2014 study by the state Comptroller found that the Bronx has the highest age-adjusted asthma death rate “by far” among all counties in New York State: 43.5 deaths per million residents in the Bronx, as opposed to the state average of 13.1 deaths per million.

Exposure to exhaust fumes is a known risk factor for asthma, the study noted.

The de Blasio administration does not support the proposed legislation, Intro 495. City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who represents sections of the South Bronx including Mott Haven, has not taken a position. The Speaker’s colleague in the South Bronx, Maria Del Carmen Arroyo, is a sponsor of the bill.

Establishing a Limit on Waste

Every day, an average 21,000 tons of residential and commercial trash must pass through—and out of—New York City. Seventy percent of that daily trash volume is typically processed for long-distance shipment in just three neighborhoods: the South Bronx, North Brooklyn and Southeast Queens.

The Council hearing was led by Brooklyn Member and Sanitation Committee Chair Antonio Reynoso, who told the crowd that he had been born and raised on the south side of Williamsburg. The question of waste equity, he said, is the issue that is “most near and dear to my community.”

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Antonio Reynoso is the current Chair of the New York City Council’s Committee on Sanitation & Solid Waste Management, and Co-Chair of the Council’s Progressive Caucus.

Reynoso referred to “a tale of two cities,” the phrase invoked by the Mayor to describe the inequities of life in contemporary New York City. “There’s no better place to look at that than North Brooklyn, the South Bronx, and Southeast Queens when it comes to how we handle trash,” Reynoso said.

Intro 495, which is sponsored by Council Member Reynoso and his colleague Steve Levin, also from North Brooklyn, seeks to do two things: first to cap, and then eventually reduce by 18 percent, the amount of waste that can be processed in the city’s three most over-burdened neighborhoods.

The legislation will also limit the amount of waste that can be handled in any of New York’s 51 community districts to five percent of the city’s total permitted capacity.

The legislation is “about bare bones principles of equity, bare bones principle of fair share,” said Kellie Terry. “This [the waste industry] will still be here [in the South Bronx], but it will be just a little less,” she added.

Concerns About Emergency Capacity

Kathryn Garcia, Commissioner of the city’s Department of Sanitation, told the City Council in testimony at last Friday’s hearing that the neighborhood waste processing limits mandated by Council Member Reynoso’s legislation could create dangerous logistical challenges for the City, especially during extreme weather and other emergency situations.

But, Commissioner Garcia said, the administration was prepared to immediately start negotiations with the city’s 39 privately-run waste transfer stations regarding “voluntary reductions.”

On a day-to-day basis, the city’s waste transfer stations typically use about half of their total permitted waste capacity. This is not always the case though. In the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, the need for waste transfer capacity soared because so much debris had to be trucked out of the city.

Action Carting, which is based in the South Bronx and delivers waste to transfer stations, told lawmakers at the hearing that the company operated at capacity for 30 days straight after Sandy.

Intro 495 would eliminate the excess capacity of transfer stations in the three most overburdened areas, and then cut that capacity further, shaving off 18 percent of what is currently being processed.

The bill does give Commissioner Garcia the ability to override neighborhood waste caps in the event of an emergency like Sandy.

But, she argued, if capacity reductions are mandated, waste transfer stations will scale back operations and they may not be able to respond as quickly as necessary. Losing all excess capacity, along with 18 percent more, in neighborhoods like the South Bronx would place real limits on the DSNY’s operational flexibility, Garcia maintained.

At the same time, respond advocates, the City is also gaining capacity through the construction of a network of marine transfer stations.

2 to 3 Trash Trucks per Minute

On a typical day, nearly 6,000 tons of trash is hauled in and out of the South Bronx, requiring about 1,400 diesel truck trips.

This means two to three truck trips every minute in the course of a typical eight to 10 hour business day.

Nine waste transfer stations operate in the area, mainly in Hunts Point and Mott Haven. According to New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, the stations have permits authorizing them to collectively handle twice their typical volume, nearly 12,000 tons of waste, daily.

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The South Bronx hosts a range of waste facilities. Photo credit: Sarah Crean / NYER.

The South Bronx hosts other waste-related facilities, including a scrap metal recycling plant, and sites which collect fill (concrete, dirt, brick and asphalt).

According to NYLPI, about 2,000 of the 6,400 tons handled in the South Bronx on an average day in 2013 was residential. Residential trash is ultimately shipped by rail out of the Bronx via the Harlem River Yard, which is privately managed. The rest of the trash processed in the South Bronx is commercial waste, including construction and demolition debris.

[The Harlem River Yard is also the future site of a Fresh Direct distribution center, which has attracted strong community opposition because of concerns about more truck traffic.]

“Boxed In”

And while the South Bronx has numerous expressways running through it, there is no direct access from those highways to some of the South Bronx’s most important industrial areas. Trucks must travel on local streets to get from the Bruckner Expressway to the Hunts Point Peninsula, for instance.

In addition to waste transfer stations, Hunts Point is also home to the city’s wholesale food markets. The markets generate enormous truck traffic, an estimated 15,000 trips daily, according to the City. To get to their destination, trucks must drive around and through the Point’s community of 12,000 residents.

I joined Angela Tovar, Director of Policy and Research for Sustainable South Bronx, for a walk through Hunts Point. I was surprised by the tightness that began to build in my chest after a couple hours on local streets. When I listened to the audio recording of my interview with Tovar later, I could hear both of us coughing.

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Angela Tovar speaks at a rally to support Intro 495. Photo credit: @TeamstersJC16

We watched as trucks passed schools, playgrounds and churches. The neighborhood’s multiple truck routes have created a situation in which residents are literally “boxed in,” said Tovar.

The traffic in and around Hunts Point is truly daunting. Trucks entering the area are coming from both the Bruckner and Sheridan expressways. “Any street is fair game,” said Tovar.

Bruckner Boulevard, which runs under the expressway, feels like a canyon of truck traffic. Crossing eight lanes of traffic at Hunts Point Avenue and Bruckner Boulevard to reach the busy #6 subway stop there, said Tovar, reminded her of the game of Frogger.

Cumulative Impact

Because of much of the area’s industrial zoning, and because of its status as a Significant Maritime Industrial Area, the South Bronx has long hosted a wide range of industrial and noxious uses.

“It’s the cumulative impact of all these other polluting industries that cause ultimately the disproportionate impact that is really abusive and oppressive to our communities,” said Kellie Terry.

The range of industrial activity is mind-boggling. In addition to the waste industry, the Hunts Point markets, and various factories, the South Bronx also has a wastewater treatment facility and four power plants in the vicinity.

Further complicating matters is the fact that some of the South Bronx’s manufacturing/industrial zones have been rezoned for mixed and residential uses. New residential construction is now closer than ever to industrial activity. A similar situation exists in North Brooklyn, which also struggles with waste-related truck traffic and air quality issues.

The South Bronx’s public health issues linked to air quality have been well documented in a variety of studies conducted by the City, State, and even Congress.

A 2009 NYU-Wagner Graduate School study reported that “rates of death from asthma are about three times higher in the Bronx than the national average. Hospitalization rates are about five times higher.”

The NYU study, funded through a Congressional appropriation, also found a “strong association between asthma hospitalization rates, poverty, the percentage of Hispanic residents, and the number of industrial facilities in the Bronx.”

As Kellie Terry noted, the South Bronx is grappling with social issues that “make our environmental impacts sometimes impossible to address.”

“We’re worried about poor educational situations, we’re worried about disproportionately high incarceration rates, we’re worried about police brutality, we’re worried about everything, all the time,” Terry said, as trucks roared by.

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Kellie Terry, Executive Director of the Point CDC. Photo credit: Adi Talwar/City Limits.

“This [the question of waste infrastructure] is one aspect of the fight,” she continued.

“You also have to fight all those other fights. That’s what it means to be within a community like this and to work towards resiliency. It’s not just environmental resiliency. But it’s also social resiliency.”

Collecting Data at the Ground Level

Part of finding public policy solutions that will truly address the concerns of South Bronx residents is collecting the best data possible.

The most recent neighborhood-level air quality data available from the City is from 2009-2010. More data is forthcoming says the City.

In collaboration with two other organizations, Sunset Park-based Uprose and HabitatMap, Sustainable South Bronx has launched an air quality monitoring program which utilizes wearable monitors. The monitor then transmits the air quality data to the wearer’s cell phone.

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The AirBeam, a wearable air monitor designed by Brooklyn-based environmental justice nonprofit HabitatMap. Photo credit: AirBeam

The data will help to pinpoint areas where there are higher concentrations of pollutants. Data has been collected by 80 people so far, both high school students and local residents. Tovar said several local schools plan to get involved.

The response from students and community groups has been “overwhelming,” said Tovar. “It’s been great. We really feel that we’ve been able to have this conversation about air quality and what it means,” she said.

After the data is analyzed, maps of the data points will be available at aircasting.org.

One of the most useful aspects of SSBx’s air quality monitoring program is that the data is being collected at ground level.

Both the State and City have air quality monitors in the Bronx. The City has four monitors in Bronx community districts one and two, said Levi Fishman, a spokesman for the City’s Department of Health. The City’s monitors are affixed 10 to 12 feet above ground level, on street or utility poles. The State’s monitoring stations are located on the tops of buildings.

“The pollution that we’re facing is on the ground…The impact is there,” said Tovar. “[We are] directly being impacted by tail pipes and truck idling.”

Collecting data from a multitude of locations—at ground level—will help to develop a more accurate picture of the air quality experienced by South Bronx residents. It may also shed light on why South Bronx hospitalization and death rates from asthma are so extraordinary.

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A smoggy view of Manhattan from the Bronx. Photo credit: Axel Drainville/Creative Commons.

The City’s 2009-2010 data for fine-particulate matter pollution levels, for example, show Midtown and Stuyvesant Town, both in Manhattan, with the highest mean concentrations citywide. But these neighborhoods do not have air quality-related health issues similar in scope to those in the South Bronx.

“Harmful air pollutants are found in all neighborhoods of NYC,” said Levi Fishman. “The health impacts of air quality depend on the number of people with health conditions, like asthma or cardio-vascular disease, that air pollution exacerbates. Outdoor air pollution isn’t the only, or even the major, cause of those conditions,” he argued.

The City’s assertion would seem to be challenged by the 2009 NYU-Wagner School study, which found a “strong association between Bronx zip codes with high asthma rates and those with a large concentration of industrial facilities.”

Clearly more information is needed about what South Bronx residents are actually breathing. The NYU-Wagner School study collected air quality data at ground level, and the study’s authors reported that levels of some pollutants—carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, and sulfur dioxide—were higher than those recorded from the State’s rooftop monitors.

Curbing Emissions

The City has tried to mitigate some of the air quality effects of truck traffic in communities like the South Bronx. It has upgraded its entire DSNY fleet to ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel.

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A hybrid electric DSNY garbage truck. Photo credit: ALF Condor.

A City ordinance now requires private waste trucks -which pick up commercial trash- to retrofit over the next five years using the best emissions reduction technologies available.

And the Department of Transportation operates a Clean Trucks program in Hunts Point and Port Morris, which offers rebates to private truck owners who retrofit their trucks to use alternative fuels such as hybrid electric and compressed natural gas, or make other improvements. The program’s funds are currently exhausted.

Environmental justice advocates across the city are trying to tackle the emissions problem by crafting a new approach to the private-sector waste industry.

Through an initiative called Transform Don’t Trash NYC, they are calling for the establishment of a contractual relationship between waste carting companies and the City. This would enable the City to more strictly control truck emissions, organize more efficient pick-up routes, and better enforce health and safety standards for waste industry workers.

DSNY Truck Traffic to be “Greatly Reduced”

In her testimony, Commissioner Garcia said that the City was sensitive to the concerns of South Bronx residents, and other communities, who endure the impact of thousands of diesel trucks on local streets every day.

She pointed out that once the City is able to open all of its Marine Transfer Stations, as outlined in the City’s 2006 Solid Waste Management Plan, waste-related truck traffic would be “greatly reduced.” Eighty-eight percent of the city’s residential waste would eventually be shipped out of the city by barge or rail, the Commissioner said.

The SWMP would lead to a reduction of 55 million DSNY vehicle miles travelled annually, Garcia said, along with additional reductions in commercial carter traffic. Air quality benefits will stretch across the region, the City maintains.

Advocates argue that the opening of the marine transfer stations, and the creation of this additional capacity, goes hand in hand with capping the waste handling burden in each community.

“We have to balance what they [DSNY] operationally would like in terms of their comfort zone with the on the ground reality that communities are choking on this stuff,” said Eddie Bautista. “It’s not fair for the department to get all this excess marine transfer station capacity and not reduce the noxious capacity.”

Bautista said that because meaningful voluntary capacity reductions had not materialized since the passage of SWMP, mandating them was consistent with the provisions of the plan. “That’s part of the deal…anything short of an actual reduction in these communities is an undermining of the 2006 SWMP.”

Thinking About the Future

What concerns advocates in particular is the city’s enormous commercial waste stream, which is as large or even larger than its residential waste stream.

Some of the city’s commercial waste, including some construction and demolition debris, will move through DSNY’s to-be-opened marine transfer stations, but not all of it. The remainder will go to land-based waste transfer stations.

Angela Tovar argued that the City needs to plan ahead to protect its neighborhoods, especially in this current period of major construction and development.

The fundamental point of the waste cap legislation, Tovar said, is to ensure that, “no other community in the future will have to bear the brunt of the city’s waste.”

Beyond the SWMP: Transforming NYC’s Relationship to Trash

The back-drop to all of these efforts is the City’s execution of the 2006 Solid Waste Management Plan. Local opposition to construction of a DSNY Marine Transfer Station at East 91st Street and the East River has attracted the most media attention by far of any aspect of the plan.

The de Blasio administration has resolutely pushed ahead, and Commissioner Garcia said last Friday that at least two marine transfer stations should be on-line in the next two years- Hamilton Avenue in Brooklyn, and the North Shore facility in Flushing, Queens.

Three other marine transfer stations –one in southwest Brooklyn, and two in Manhattan, at East 91st Street and West 59th Street- will start operation as well. Trash shipment by rail will also increase as part of the SWMP.

And the City is planning to develop a major recycling and educational facility at Gansevoort Pier in the West Village.

For the first time, each borough will be directly involved in handling some of its own waste.

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A line of DSNY trucks in Queens, New York. Photo credit: Kris Arnold.

The city’s three most over-burdened communities will be impacted in different ways by the SWMP. Council Member Maria Del Carmen Arroyo, who represents sections of the South Bronx including Hunts Point, said that the South Bronx would probably benefit most from the addition of the West 59th Street station, which will receive construction and demolition debris.

“My community is asking me to do this [support the SWMP],” Arroyo said by phone.

The Councilwoman added that New York City needed to confront the bigger issue, which is the amount of waste it produces. “We’re not talking about real recycling…reducing tonnage…The SWMP addresses one small part.”

“The merits of the plan put us in the right direction,” maintained Kellie Terry. The task, she said, was to “continuously…assess…our current policies for ways to improve them so they can be more just, ultimately for everybody.”

Bautista praised a number of the City’s initiatives, such as increasing household composting, and using anaerobic digestion to turn organic waste into energy. The City, he said, was finally turning its attention to decreasing waste and reducing its carbon footprint.

The “top priority,” Bautista said, “is that however we’re handling our solid waste as a city, that we’re not being hypocritical. We want fair share and environmental justice, not just for our communities, but for those landfills in Pennsylvania, Virginia, wherever else we’re sending our waste. We should be figuring out how to handle that [waste] closer to home, and the way you do it is you reduce waste and increase recycling.”

Standing His Ground

For Council Member Antonio Reynoso, establishing limits on the quantity of waste that can be handled in each of the city’s neighborhoods is the next piece of this enormous puzzle.

A number of Council Members raised questions about the legislation at last week’s hearing, arguing that setting waste caps would simply push trash processing into more neighborhoods, causing widespread harm.

Other Members said they were ready to help shoulder some of the City’s trash burden. “The Upper West Side wants to do more,” said Council Member Helen Rosenthal, saying that she saw opportunities for job creation with the overhaul of a marine transfer station at West 59th Street. “Bring it on.”

After a direct plea from representatives of the private waste industry for a delay to moving ahead with Intro 495 and a “dialogue” with the Council and affected communities, Reynoso responded, “we just can’t wait.”

“This piece of legislation has been going on for a long time [8 years],” Reynoso said at the tail-end of Friday’s 5-hour hearing. “There’s no solution [coming] from the other side…We need to get something done because my community can’t wait anymore, and that’s why we’re pushing.”

Intro 495 is currently under review by the Sanitation Committee.

Shifting the Paradigm

In the meantime, residents of the South Bronx have moved ahead with their own sustainability agenda, even as they continue to press the City for waste caps.

“This idea that this is an overburdened community is only part of the story,” said Angela Tovar. “There is a paradigm shift,” she added.

“The other side of the story,” Tovar said, “is that groups and activists are working in tandem to be proactive about solutions…People have a right to clean air and clean water.”

Local groups are pressing the City about improving the quality of the Bronx River, which is impacted by the discharge of over one billion gallons of untreated sewage and stormwater annually.

South Bronx residents have fought successfully for increased access to amenities, access to green space, and access to the waterfront. The community is now seeking to expand the South Bronx Greenway, which, when completed, will connect existing and new parks through a network of waterfront and on-street routes.

“We have a limited amount of green space in the community,” said Tovar. “We engage a lot of people locally in maintaining the trees. Anything that is going to help improve the air quality is very important to us. Trees are one of the only interventions that we have.”

Local groups have also collaborated with businesses to build green infrastructure projects, such as the green roof installed on ABC Carpet’s Bronx River warehouse.

Angela Tovar and I stopped at Barretto Point Park, which occupies a scenic spot on the East River. The roar from passing trucks was ceaseless as we spoke.

Built in 2007, Barretto Point Park was a victory for local residents and is “one of the treasures of the community,” said Tovar. “The challenge is getting people here safely.”

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Barretto Point Park is located on the East River waterfront. Photo credit: NYC Parks.

Tovar described lines of Hunts Point residents waiting to use the park’s floating pool during the summer. The park is also a destination for fishermen, she said.

“[But] two blocks away we have transfer stations,” she pointed out. On a windy day, Tovar said, fumes and debris can blow into the Park from the stations. Private transfer stations are sometimes open to the elements, which I saw firsthand. The City’s marine transfer stations will be fully enclosed.

One of the city’s wastewater treatment facilities, which is heavily served by trucks, is also close to the Park.

“It’s a challenge for us,” Tovar said, looking out at the beautiful coastline of Barretto Point.

Then she turned her gaze back toward the passing trucks. “We are continuously looking for solutions,” she said.

Issues to Watch in 2015: Raw Sewage Releases into NYC Waterways

Throughout January, we will be featuring critical local environmental issues that are likely to see significant action this year.

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In bright sunshine, a group of New Yorkers in flowing garb wades into the waters of Coney Island Creek. They run their arms through the glistening water, and then raise their hands in prayer.

This beautiful scene appears in a short film about Coney Island Creek by Charles Denson which shows the love that local residents have for the Creek, and the multitude of ways they use it.

Coney Island Creek, like all of the City’s waterways, has endured decades of pollution and a host of environmental stresses. One major source of pollution into the Creek has been the periodic release of untreated sewage and stormwater from a sewer outflow point.

The City says it has invested $166 million in order to drastically reduce the releases to a level of 37 million gallons entering the Creek per year.

Thirty Billion Gallons

In total, almost 30 billion gallons of raw sewage and polluted stormwater are discharged annually into New York City’s waterways. The releases cause environmental damage, and put kayakers, swimmers, fishing enthusiasts and other New Yorkers into potential contact with pathogenic bacteria and other toxic substances.

Environmental groups and the State of New York say the City is not doing enough to ensure that local waterways like Coney Island Creek and Jamaica Bay are safe for public use all year round.

A fundamental dispute between the City and the State is how far the City should be expected to go to meet the goals of the federal Clean Water Act- that all public waterways be fishable and swimmable.

Advocates also say that the City’s efforts to address the problem do not incorporate public input in a meaningful or transparent way.

“The [City’s] current LTCP [Long Term Sewage Overflow Control Plan] development process is deeply flawed, both in process and in substance,” said a coalition of watchdog and environmental groups in a recent letter to the City.

The City argues that it has made significant progress, more than doubling the amount of raw sewage captured prior to storm-related releases. Almost $2 billion has been spent to control raw sewage discharges, and there are plans to spend $2 billion more, they add.

Last month, the State announced plans to update its water quality regulations. This pushes the issue forward, and may compel the City to adopt more stringent sewage control goals than are currently in place. The public can ask questions and offer their opinions about the updated standards at a hearing with state officials on January 27th.

Raw Sewage Releases: A Systemic Issue

Approximately 70 percent of New York’s sewers are combined. This means that household and industrial wastewater, rainwater, and street runoff -1.3 billion gallons daily- are all collected in the same sewers and conveyed together to the City’s 14 treatment plants.

During heavy rains or snow, combined sewers can fill to capacity and are then unable to carry household and storm sewage to treatment plants. The mix of excess storm water and untreated sewage must be released directly into the city’s waterways.

There are over 400 combined sewer overflow (CSO) release points throughout the five boroughs. As little as one-tenth of an inch of rain can trigger a CSO release. This happens about 75 times per year, say environmental groups.

And the issue is becoming more pressing as local rainfall becomes more frequent and intense due to climate change.

A State-Mandated Plan for Pollution Control

CSO releases are technically a violation of the federal Clean Water Act. To remedy this, the City is in the midst of executing a three-part strategy to reduce the releases as required by a 2012 “Consent Order” it has entered into with the State.

First, the City has committed to spending $1.6 billion more on grey infrastructure, which would ultimately reduce CSO discharges by an estimated 8.4 billion gallons per year. Recent grey infrastructure projects completed by the City include upgrades to wastewater treatment facilities, storm sewer expansions and the construction of CSO retention tanks.

Second, the City has committed to installing green infrastructure, like green roofs, porous pavement and “bioswales” (large curbside plantings), that will absorb one inch of rainwater across 8,000 acres of the city. The 8,000 acres represents 10 percent of impervious surfaces, like streets and sidewalks, in all areas of the city with combined sewers.

The idea is to capture stormwater run-off before it reaches and overwhelms sewers, reducing CSO releases by another 1.5 billion gallons per year.

Finally, in the next three years, the City must produce plans for ten separate water bodies or “sewer sheds” – areas of the city where raw sewage is released into waterways.

Addressing the City’s “Sewer Sheds”

According to the City, the goal of each plan “is to identify appropriate CSO controls necessary to achieve waterbody-specific…standards, consistent with the Federal CSO Policy and the water quality goals of the Clean Water Act.”

Each sewer shed plan will contain some combination of green and grey infrastructure solutions. The State must sign off on each plan, as it is responsible for enforcing federal Clean Water regulations.

The City’s schedule for completion and submittal of its long-term CSO control plans runs through 2017:

  • Alley Creek- June, 2013
  • Westchester Creek- June, 2014
  • Hutchinson River- September, 2014
  • Flushing Creek- December, 2014
  • Bronx River- June, 2015
  • Gowanus Canal- June, 2015
  • Coney Island Creek- June, 2016
  • Jamaica Bay and Tributaries- June, 2016
  • Flushing Bay- June, 2017
  • Newtown Creek- June, 2017

The ten area plans will form the basis of a citywide CSO reduction plan to be completed by the end of 2017.

Advocates say that the goal is to find cost-effective ways to achieve the “highest attainable use” for each of the city’s water bodies. But the City does not appear to be in agreement with the State and environmental groups about what is actually attainable.

Struggling to Reach Agreement on Water Quality Standards

All sides agree that the City is making real progress on a number of fronts, including its construction of hundreds of green infrastructure projects throughout the five boroughs.

Nonetheless, the State Department of Environmental Conservation has rejected the first long-term plan submitted by the City, which covers Alley Creek in Queens. At issue is to what extent the City actually plans to clean up Alley Creek. The City aimed lower than what the State says is required by federal law.

The State and the City are now in litigation.

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Alley Creek flows through Alley Pond Park, the 2nd largest park in Queens. Photo by Maxmaria.

The long-term goal should be that all of New York City’s waterways are “fishable and swimmable,” argues the State. The new water quality standards released by the State this past December are a “big deal,” Larry Levine, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council’s water program, told NYER.

The NRDC is reviewing the draft standards now, as is the City. A recent article by Levine for the NRDC staff blog argues that New York City leads the U.S. in the category of “most untreated sewage discharged to waterways.”

The City is not taking the long term CSO reduction plans for each sewer shed seriously enough, says Levine. He maintains that the plans submitted thus far -for Alley Creek, Hutchinson River, Bronx River and Flushing Creek- do not include significant pollution reduction targets.

This jeopardizes the overall effort to support truly healthy local water bodies, say advocates.

“The first two parts of the [2012] agreement [between the City and the State],” observed Levine, “are projected to reduce annual sewage overflows by about 12 billion gallons per year. That still leaves 18 billion gallons…that’s why the third part of the deal is so critical. The Long Term Control Plans are meant to close the gap.”

The City declined to comment on Mr. Levine’s article.

“The Issue Is Cost”

The City responds to its critics by arguing that it is doing everything it can with the financial resources at hand. Projects to improve harbor water quality are not funded by City tax dollars. Rather, the city’s water rate payers –building owners and ultimately their tenants- pick up the tab for new infrastructure.

The Department of Environmental Protection is responsible for developing and implementing the City’s CSO reduction plan. The agency oversees New York City’s water supply, sewage treatment and stormwater management systems. The DEP is also responsible for making sure that local waterways are in compliance with state and federal Clean Water regulations.

At a public meeting in December, DEP Commissioner Emily Lloyd stated that the agency was retiring about a half billion dollars in debt every year, and adding a “couple billion more” annually.

Current efforts to control sewage and stormwater releases –per the 2012 agreement with the State- will only add more debt, Lloyd said.

Questions About Public Participation

As part of its planning process, the DEP holds a public meeting each time it completes a CSO reduction plan and is preparing to submit it to the State. For instance, a public meeting to discuss the City’s CSO reduction plan for the Bronx River is scheduled for February.

Contrary to the step by step environmental review process that typically exists for development projects, legislative updates, etc., there is no formalized public oversight as the City develops its long-term CSO control plans. The DEP acknowledged at a public meeting in December that it does not share the plans with the public before they are submitted to the State for review.

Instead, a PowerPoint summary is presented at the meeting for each sewer shed. The public can ask questions at the meeting and submit comments in writing. Advocates say it is unclear what happens to these comments.

A November 17th letter to DEP Commissioner Emily Lloyd from the SWIM [Stormwater Infrastructure Matters] Coalition stated that, “we cannot emphasize strongly enough that it is impossible at this time for us or any member of the public to evaluate DEP’s proposal or its underlying analysis, as the public is merely provided a PowerPoint presentation.”

SWIM’s steering committee includes representatives from Riverkeeper, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Bronx River Alliance.

The letter, which was submitted in response to the Flushing Creek plan, said the City’s PowerPoint “was missing essential information” such as “CSO volume reductions and water quality improvements” that would result from the different options -grey and green- available to the City.

Why had the City gone with a disinfection strategy for addressing raw sewage releases, SWIM asked. “As presented, the DEP gave the public absolutely no information as to their green infrastructure plans for this watershed,” they added.

Before submittal to the State, the City “should publish -for public comment- the actual plans,” SWIM argued.

SWIM also maintained that in its presentations to the public, the City has not been clear about what the State mandated for each long term control plan. The City’s roles and responsibilities as required by the 2012 consent order should be transparent, said the Coalition.

The DEP declined to comment on the November 17th letter from SWIM.

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Swimming event in New York Harbor. Photo by Jay Fine.

Every year, more New Yorkers are returning to the waterways that surround our city. From kayaking in Jamaica Bay to swimming in the Hudson River, we are re-connecting with our coastal habitat of islands, rivers, creeks and bays.

This year, the City and State will continue to debate (or litigate) the fundamental implications of the Clean Water Act for New York City’s waterways. Environmental groups will be watching to see whether the City’s sewer shed plans will reflect any progress made in this conversation.

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More information about the City’s efforts to control CSO releases and its Long Term Control Plan can be found here.

Written comments regarding the State’s updated water quality standards may be submitted on or before Monday, February 2nd.

 

Get Ready to Start Dealing with Your E-Waste!

As we accumulate more gadgets, the amount of electronic debris entering our waste stream is soaring in volume. This changed on January 1st. New York State residents can no longer throw their devices and gadgets into the trash.

U.S. consumers throw away 400 million units of electronic equipment per year, the state Department of Environmental Conservation reports. What’s the solution? Recycling e-waste– in order to protect human health and the environment.

Recycling diverts thousands of pounds of waste from landfills and incinerators, says the DEC. It keeps toxins such as lead, mercury and cadmium from “contaminating the air, water and soil.” And it conserves natural resources “by allowing valuable materials to be reclaimed and reused, rather than using virgin materials.”

Starting January 1st, 2015, state law will prohibit consumer disposal of electronic equipment in landfills or waste-to-energy facilities.

What sort of gadgets are covered by the new law?

Computers (including laptops, desktops, tablets and e-readers)
TV’s
Cathode ray tubes
Small scale servers
Computer peripherals (including any permanently attached cables, cords, or wiring)
Monitors
Electronic keyboards
Electronic mice or similar pointing devices
Fax machines, document scanners, and printers (only those intended for use with a computer and weighing less than 100 lbs.)
Small electronic equipment (including any permanently attached cables, cords, or wiring)
VCRs
Digital video recorders
Portable digital music players
DVD players (including projectors with DVD player capabilities intended for home-use)
Digital converter boxes
Cable or satellite receivers (including digital media receivers)
Electronic or video game consoles (including both handheld devices and those intended for use with a video display device)

That’s a lot of items that can’t get dumped in the trash anymore! Where can we take them?

Electronics manufacturers must provide free and convenient e-waste collection to most NYS consumers, says the state. Manufacturers can offer a “variety of collection methods” under the new law. This includes drop-off locations, recycling events and mail back programs. Check the state DEC website to find out how you can locate and use a manufacturer’s Take Back Program.

The state also maintains a list of electronic waste collection sites. The state cautions consumers to call ahead and doublecheck that their items will be accepted.

New York City residents can drop off electronics at Goodwill, Salvation Army, Best Buy, Staples (no TVs), or the Lower East Side Ecology Center.

And NYC apartment buildings can participate in e-cycleNYC, which provides buildings with free pick up and recycling of unwanted electronics.

Pssst. There’s A Plastic Bag Hearing This Wednesday

After a quiet few months, New York City’s plastic bag bill is back. City Council legislation that would charge a 10-cent fee to consumers for single-use plastic and paper bags will be debated by the Council’s Sanitation Committee this Wednesday.

The legislation, Int. No. 209, is sponsored by Council Members Brad Lander and Margaret Chin.

Council Member Lander’s office notes that New York City pays an estimated $10 million to transport 100,000 tons of plastic bags to landfills in other states every year.

Despite a State backed system for “taking back” and recycling these bags, “the vast majority” are not recycled, says Lander’s office. Cities like Washington, DC have been able to reduce plastic bag usage by 60 percent, they report.

New Yorkers use 5.2 billion paper and plastic carryout bags annually. These bags “clog up our trees and storm drains, litter our streets and beaches, [and] wind up as part of massive islands of plastic garbage in the oceans,” says Lander’s office.

Opponents of the bill say that collecting the 10-cent fee is a burden on small businesses. According to the legislation, retailers keep the ten cents charged to consumers who choose to take a single-use bag. Opponents have also questioned whether re-using grocery bags is sanitary.

Lander’s office will hold a rally and press conference on the steps of City Hall this Wednesday in advance of the 1pm hearing.

After the hearing, the five person Sanitation Committee will vote privately on the bill. A majority yes vote will send Int. No. 209 to the full City Council for a hearing. A majority no vote would resign the bill to the legislative landfill – much like Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s scuttled 2008 attempt to tax plastic bags.

Will New York go the way of Washington D.C. and Los Angeles, and tax the bag? We’ll know more on Wednesday.

North Brooklyn: Fighting for Fairness in NYC’s Trash War

Last week, Council Members Steve Levin and Antonio Reynoso, both from North Brooklyn, introduced legislation that could have a major impact on how New York City handles its trash in the future. If passed, Intro 495 would place a limit on the amount of waste processed by any single community district, and would ultimately reduce the volume of waste currently handled by the city’s most overburdened neighborhoods.

The legislation speaks to the fact that two areas of the city—North Brooklyn (Williamsburg and Greenpoint) and the South Bronx—house over half of the city’s waste transfer stations. And that proportion climbs even higher if you include recycling facilities and other types of waste infrastructure.

The ongoing public health impact of concentrating so much waste-related activity in a few areas has yet to be adequately addressed, residents and local officials say.

Every day, thousands of trucks barrel through a handful of communities, unloading trash from all corners of the city. The trucks are operated both by the City and private carting companies. They collect waste from households, public facilities like schools, private businesses, and building rehab and demolition sites.

The movement of waste never ceases. Truck traffic is one of the most dominant, and arguably destructive, rhythms of life in New York.

Council Member Levin described the current situation in North Brooklyn and the South Bronx as, “generations in the making…it’s fundamentally unfair. It goes against what we think of ourselves as a city.”

A Decentralized System with Concentrated Effects

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A line of DSNY trucks in Greenpoint. Photo credit: Mary Sue Connolly / Creative Commons.

New York City residents and businesses produce more than 20,000 tons of solid waste every day. Our waste is hauled out of the city by the truckload to incineration plants and landfills in several states.

Truck traffic is one of the most dominant, and arguably destructive, rhythms of life in New York.

While some of the city’s waste goes from our homes and businesses to its final destination in one truck trip, most of it is loaded onto larger trucks at waste transfer stations first, before being taken out of the city.

The costs of such a system are extensive: millions of dollars in landfill and trucking fees paid by the City and its taxpayers; carbon emissions generated by hundreds of thousands of truck trips; and long-term environmental contamination created by landfills, to name a few.

This story takes a look at the two communities most on the frontline of the city’s waste management system: North Brooklyn and the South Bronx. Since the 1990s, residents from these two neighborhoods have been fighting for a more equitable and sustainable citywide solid waste policy.

Their efforts were essential to the creation of the City’s Solid Waste Management Plan in 2006, which has the long-term objective of making each borough responsible for processing its own waste. The Plan also shifts waste transport away from long-haul trucking, toward a barge and rail-based system.

The most publicized debate about the City’s Solid Waste Management Plan centers around the construction of a marine transfer station on the Upper East Side, at East 91st Street. In an earlier article, we explored some of the key objections that Upper East Side residents have raised about the station, and the City’s plan overall.

The community representatives we spoke with in North Brooklyn and the South Bronx are highly supportive of the City’s plan, and see it as part of a much larger process to fundamentally shift how New York City handles its trash.

North Brooklyn: the epicenter of waste handling

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Trash trucks roll down Metropolitan Avenue, in front of P.S. 132. Photo credit: Sarah Crean via NYER.

In early September, Eric Bruzaitis, a North Brooklyn resident for almost two decades, took me on a three-hour walking tour of waste transfer stations throughout his neighborhood.

Bruzaitis is a member of his local community board. He is also a member of OUTRAGE (Organization United for Trash Reduction & Garbage Equity), which is beginning its third study of the impact of truck traffic on North Brooklyn. Its last study in 2009 found that trucks passed key intersections in North Brooklyn at a rate of two, and in some cases three, per minute.

The group estimated that 5,000 trucks move through the neighborhood every day.

We met in front of P.S. 132, which sits on Metropolitan Avenue, one of Greenpoint’s major truck routes. School had just let out and trucks thundered by as children played in the schoolyard. I could barely hear Eric over the sound of the trucks as he explained that what we were experiencing was a largely unseen part of the city’s waste stream.

“Metropolitan Avenue is a highway of trash-related trucks,” observed Laura Hofmann, a life-long resident of North Brooklyn. “We’re literally [being] pummelled.”

The scale of the waste that North Brooklyn handles on a daily basis is hard to over-emphasize.

In 2011, North Brooklyn handled an estimated one million tons of non-putrescible waste.

In 2011, this single area of Brooklyn received more than a third of New York City’s putrescible and non-putrescible waste—almost 7,000 tons every day, according to a Department of Sanitation breakdown. Putrescible waste contains organic material, such as food, which is capable of decomposing. This is what comes out of our homes and businesses on a daily basis.

North Brooklyn plays a particularly important role in handling non-putrescible waste, such as construction and demolition debris. More than half of the city’s non-putrescible waste was processed in North Brooklyn in 2011, which is noteworthy considering the number of construction projects taking place all over New York.

In 2011, North Brooklyn handled an estimated one million tons of non-putrescible waste, using Department of Sanitation data.

The area is home to 15 private waste transfer stations, which accept waste from private haulers and the City’s Department of Sanitation. All of the waste transfer stations in New York City are currently privately operated, confirmed Gavin Kearney, the Environmental Justice program director at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest.

Those transfer stations also bring related businesses with them: scrap yards, towing companies, gas stations, and truck repair and washing facilities. These ancillary businesses are “part of the waste industry that people don’t think about,” Bruzaitis said, and each one leaves an environmental footprint.

Struggling to Breathe

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Greenpoint waterfront. Photo credit: Jim / Creative Commons.

The most obvious public health impact of the relentless truck traffic is diminished air quality, an issue that Williamsburg and Greenpoint residents have been raising for two decades. In 2009, community volunteers used hand-held monitors to monitor air quality at three intersections with heavy truck traffic.

The analysis, coordinated by OUTRAGE, found that particulate counts at the three intersections jumped 355 percent during days in which truck traffic is present (Monday through Saturday). More troubling, the group found that levels of finer-airborne particles (.5 micron in measurement) rose over one-thousand percent during the workweek.

While the City has upgraded its DSNY trucks to minimize emissions, private companies are not yet held to the same standards.

The results align with an analysis of public health data conducted by the City in 2011. The City reported that the “rate of respiratory hospitalization among adults attributable to PM2.5 [fine particulate matter]…varies more than seven-fold, with the highest burdens found in sections of the South Bronx, Northern Manhattan and Northern Brooklyn.”

The poor air quality in North Brooklyn is attributable, at least in part, to the kind of waste processed here. A significant proportion of the waste is commercial debris, carried in by private haulers. While the City has upgraded its DSNY trucks to minimize emissions, private companies are not yet held to the same standards.

Bruzaitis said that residents have been talking to the City about establishing additional air quality monitors in North Brooklyn. The City has at least one monitor in every community district. Neighborhood-level information on particulate matter and other pollutants – through 2010 – can be found on the Health Department’s Environmental Public Health Tracking Portal.

Living Alongside the City’s Biggest Waste Cluster

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Waste transfer stations also bring associated industries. Photo credit: Sarah Crean via NYER.

To get to North Brooklyn’s transfer stations, trucks bringing waste from other parts of the city exit the BQE and then travel south and east through Greenpoint and Williamsburg.

Eric and I headed east on Maspeth Avenue, passing Cooper Park and the Cooper Park Houses, a public housing development with 1,700 residents. One block beyond the eastern edge of the park is Vandervoort Avenue, where the area’s densest cluster of waste transfer stations—ten along a 1.3 mile stretch—begins.

Industrial and residential uses, like day care centers and schools, are mixed together throughout the area. The Greenpoint Little League field sits on Vandervoort. One waste transfer station we passed, in East Williamsburg, sat across the street from a residential building. In other cases, housing could be found a couple of blocks away, or as much as a quarter-mile, from the transfer stations.

[One of the overall dynamics in North Brooklyn is the fact that residential and industrial uses are steadily moving closer together. Ten years ago, large sections of the industrial waterfront were rezoned for housing. Housing developers are also obtaining zoning variances in designated industrial areas.]

The day I visited, the truck traffic seemed relentless. Dust and grit blew through the air as trucks drove by; I could practically feel it between my teeth. And despite requirements that the trucks be covered, loose trash could still be seen blowing in the streets.

The sound was deafening at times. Because the volume of traffic on Vandervoort is so high, Bruzaitis said that the City had recently made Morgan Avenue, one block west, an official truck route as well. The addition of yet another truck route received mixed reactions from residents, Bruzaitis noted.

“Rats running around on the edges of trucks…a lot of them are dirty, leaky…oderous. Dirty diapers, tampons, [trash] aerolyzing. This is what people are being exposed to,” said Hofmann.

Regulating the City’s Waste Hubs

One of the most surprising things about my visits to both North Brooklyn and the South Bronx is that some of the waste transfer stations are not fully-enclosed. They have walls but no roof. The stations are required to use misters to wet the trash and control the amount of particulate matter released into the air. In some cases, I saw workers with paper masks hosing down enormous piles of debris in the open air.

[The City regulates waste transfer stations. Several times during my visits to North Brooklyn and the South Bronx I observed that the entrances were open. According to New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, the street-level entrances to transfer stations are supposed to be closed, except when trucks are entering and exiting.]

“At least get them [the stations] covered,” Bruzaitis said. “But even when they’re covered, there’s a whole other host of issues…A facility can only handle so many trucks at a time. They’ll start to queue.”

“It’s easy to blame an entire industry [but] they’re just serving a need…It’s got to go somewhere.”

Bruzaitis talked about the daily challenges of living in a waste hub—like idling trucks and truck traffic on residential streets—that his community is trying to address.

There are established truck routes, Bruzaitis said. “But if the traffic’s bad, and you’re a truck driver that’s on a schedule, guess where you’re going to go.” He explained that OUTRAGE, Community Board 1, and other City agencies are working with the Police Department to bolster existing enforcement efforts. “They [the police] didn’t even know that they could write [tickets] for…an uncovered vehicle, or a truck off-route, or leaking putrescibles,” he said.

“It’s easy to blame an entire industry,” Bruzaitis continued. “[But] they’re [the waste industry] just serving a need…It’s got to go somewhere.”

Nonetheless, Bruzaitis added later, the transfer stations, and the trucks that deliver to them, need to be better regulated, with greater enforcement. A key problem, he said, is that there is not enough enforcement personnel on the ground, either from the City or the State.

“Our problems in North Brooklyn (and other parts of the city) have their solution in a multi-agency enforcement approach,” said Bruzaitis. “My hope is that we may be able to get rules that would allow agencies to write [tickets] across their jurisdiction.”

The City maintains that it has “sufficient” staff to carry out enforcement. “Inspections [of the transfer stations] are frequent and thorough; we inspect 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” stated Belinda Mager, a spokeswoman for the Department of Sanitation.

“If observed by an Officer,” Mager said, “trucks observed leaking material receive spillage summonses.” The DSNY also writes tickets to trucks seen idling for more than three minutes.

Bruzaitis said that OUTRAGE has been “working with the enforcement division of DSNY…to schedule an in-depth meeting on the problems specific to North Brooklyn.”

Sharing the Burden

One of the guiding principles of the 2006 Solid Waste Management Plan is that “for both commercial waste and DSNY-managed waste—responsibility for the City’s waste management system should be allocated equitably throughout the City, in each of the five boroughs.”

Manhattan is the only borough that currently does not handle any of its own waste.The City, along with environmental justice communities and many environmental groups, argues that sharing the burden of waste infrastructure is part of civic life.

Laura Hofmann said she understood why neighborhoods fight the introduction -or re-opening- of waste infrastructure. “Is it an ideal situation? No, it’s not,” she said. “Every borough has to do their fair share. If we [North Brooklyn] can learn to live with all of this industry and unwanted land uses, so can other communities.”

As part of the SWMP, five marine transfer stations (two in Manhattan, one in Queens, and two in Brooklyn) will be constructed or retrofitted in order to receive some of the trash now going to the city’s densest waste hubs.

The City says that the 91st Street marine transfer station, for example, will be a fully enclosed, state of the art facility. The City is also looking at ways to address truck queuing outside the stations. The significance of these steps is far more apparent after seeing what private transfer stations actually look like.

The core objective of the Plan is to begin to diminish the volume of waste entering communities like North Brooklyn.

An analysis prepared by the New York League of Conservation Voters found that “full implementation of the SWMP is expected to reduce City-collection truck travel by nearly 3 million miles and private long-haul truck travel on city streets by 2.8 million miles.” Every marine barge used will take 48 container trucks off the road, says the City.

Bruzaitis said that the impact of the SWMP will be gradual, but meaningful. He pointed to a line of trucks waiting to exit the BQE at Meeker Avenue.

“You have to start somewhere,” he said. “North Brooklyn is still going to be processing the majority of the city’s waste for the foreseeable future.” He said that the SWMP was designed to “start encouraging companies to go to other locations, making it feasible…[and, by using barges and trains] changing the way that we transport trash within the city.”

The long-term solution for the entire city, Bruzaitis added, “is people have to recycle…compost…and be smart about what they purchase…The infrastructure around trash has to be better. We have to make it easier for people to recycle.”

But achieving that vision cannot happen without addressing inequities in how trash is currently processed, Bruzaitis argued. That means better enforcement and public policy, he said. “A big part of that is full implementation of the SWMP…and getting all five marine transfer stations up and running.”

Addressing historic environmental issues in the midst of gentrification

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View of Greenpoint from a rooftop. Photo credit: Angelo Calilap / Creative Commons.

Bruzaitis said that North Brooklyn’s environmental justice issues had to be understood in a broader historical context. Despite the current narrative of rejuvenation and gentrification, Greenpoint and Williamsburg residents are struggling with the results of decades of industrial contamination, in the ground beneath them and in Newtown Creek.

“I wouldn’t live anywhere else,” Bruzaitis concluded. “It’s important to me so I fight for it.”

“We had the rezoning in 2004/05 of North Brooklyn…It’s a story of growth and re-birth…that’s been the story,” said Bruzaitis.

“And it is great on some level. [But] you have the problems of people getting priced out, and it’s the same people that have been dealing with environmental problems [inaudible] in this neighborhood for years and years…environmental problems that are now almost impossible to remediate.”

Bruzaitis believes that waste management in North Brooklyn, however, is an environmental issue that can be tackled.

“Like any problem that is overwhelming, it is made up of individual parts…if we can just get [each public agency] to take their piece of the puzzle…ultimately we will come to a better solution.”

“I wouldn’t live anywhere else,” Bruzaitis concluded. “It’s important to me so I fight for it.”

Emily Manley assisted with the editing of this story.

***

In part II of this article, we visit the South Bronx, which bears the brunt of at least 15 waste transfer stations; along with a wastewater treatment facility, power plants, a recycling facility, wholesale markets that serve the entire city, and a dense highway network.

In addition to advocating for citywide waste management policy improvements, South Bronx residents are tracking air quality and carrying out a variety of pollution mitigation projects.