City Waste Overhaul

In the city that never sleeps, there has been little rest for Mayor Michael Bloomberg and others involved in crafting New York's long-awaited solid waste management plan. Approved by the City Council in July, the plan is intended to drastically reduce the number of trucks on the road and more evenly distribute solid waste management across the city's boroughs. One aspect of the plan, however, has made some parties skeptical: the price tag.

Bloomberg called the 44-5 City Council vote, “the culmination of years of work to achieve cleaner air, far fewer trucks on the road and more recycling. For generations our city has failed to fulfill a fundamental government function — getting rid of the trash in a way that was as fair, equitable and efficient as possible.” Currently, trash from the area is trucked to transfer stations in Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx and then transported out of state. Traffic and air pollution have become sources of contention in those boroughs, spurring action such as the Queens Clean Air Project.

Under the 20-year plan required by the state and backed by Sanitation Commissioner John Doherty, New York will build four marine transfer stations — two in Brooklyn and one in Queens and Manhattan's Upper East Side — at an estimated $360 million and also use six privately owned rail transfer stations in Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx. Ninety percent of residential waste will be exported by rail or barge. The city has claimed that the actions will reduce sanitation truck mileage by 2.7 million miles per year and tractor trailer truck mileage by 3 million miles.

While supporters are touting the plan's fairness and positive environmental impact, some stakeholders have concerns. In March 2005, David Biderman, general counsel for the National Solid Wastes Management Association, testified regarding the potential costs. He still has reservations about the additional $30 per ton that the city has estimated it will cost to dispose of residential waste. (That's nearly $360,000 daily.) He notes that the increase is on top of the cost to build, maintain and operate the marine transfer stations. The city, meanwhile, has maintained that owning the transfer stations eventually will help control costs.

Thomas Toscano, CFO and CLO for Mr. T Carting, which has both transfer station and carting operations in New York, says he is worried about whether his transfer station capacity, currently about 10,000 tons per month, will be reduced. To direct waste to the marine transfer stations, the city has said it will reduce capacity at other privately owned stations. Biderman says that a provision requires negotiations between private transfer station owners and the city to reduce the private capacity. If those negotiations are not successful, the city may pass a separate law mandating the reduction of private sector transportation capacity, although that scenario is likely years away. For carters that don't own transfer stations, switching to a city-owned station could raise their dumping fees from $80 to $90 per ton to between $130 and $140, Toscano says.

One thing most parties agree on is the need for stronger recycling programs in the city. In addition to a new Office of Recycling Outreach and Education, the plan provides for a public spaces recycling program and a spring yard waste program, and also adds four new plastic types to the types allowed for recycling.