New York Mayor Proposes Trash Plan

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg in July unveiled his solution to the metropolis' growing garbage problem, but the plan is short on details about where the trash ultimately will be shipped.

Since Staten Island, N.Y.'s Fresh Kills Landfill closed last year, the city of 8 million has hotly debated how garbage will be disposed of. Trash currently is being trucked to land transfer stations in Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx, where it then is loaded onto rail cars and tractor trailers, then taken out of the state.

Bloomberg's plan calls for the city's estimated 11,000 to 14,000 tons per day of trash to be transported to eight dormant marine transfer stations in four boroughs, with a ninth transfer station to be built in Staten Island, so that each borough will have at least one site. At the transfer stations, waste will be packed and sealed into 20-foot-long metal containers and placed on river barges that will move the containers to oceangoing ships or rail cars. Each transfer station will be upgraded and retrofitted to allow waste to be containerized and compacted onsite.

“By upgrading our transfer stations, the city will have significantly greater flexibility in disposal options, vastly mitigated environmental impact and lessened vulnerability to any single disposal method or market,” Bloomberg said in an official press release.

Despite not specifying the trash's final resting place, Bloomberg noted that the city will be able to use its waterways to more effectively transport waste, as well as to reduce the number of trucks on the road and the pollution associated with them.

Silver Spring, Md.-based Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA) CEO John Skinner, who was on the Washington, D.C.-based U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) task force that recently looked at transfer stations and their impact in residential areas, says that the marine facilities are in good, non-residential areas. “Of all of the other plans proposed over the years, this one makes the most sense,” he says.

However, some industry insiders worry that the mayor's plan will close several private-sector transfer stations and reroute commercial waste to the city's marine sites.

The plan also does not address concerns raised by some about the city's current rate cap on commercial collection. The National Solid Wastes Management Association (NSWMA), Washington, D.C., and others are urging the city's Business Integrity Commission (BIC) — formerly the New York City Trade Waste Commission — to reform its rate cap policy. Changes to the cap, which currently stands at $12.20 per cubic yard and has not changed since 1997 when former Mayor Rudolph Giuiliani decreased it from $14.70, are being considered by BIC, according to spokesman Robert Schulman.

NSWMA's David Biderman cites affordability as the biggest concern with the rate cap. Disposal costs have increased, as well as insurance, labor, fuel and other costs, he says. “Before you even turn on the truck, hire the driver, maintain the truck or pay for its fuel maintenance, you're already losing money.

“If it remains, some companies, including some of NSWMA's members, [will be] forced to shed thousands of customers because it's impossible for them to legally collect customers' waste under the rate cap,” Biderman adds.

Bloomberg has confessed that his plan probably will not save money in the short-term. It will cost a few hundred million dollars to implement over a two-year span, excluding the new $35 million Staten Island facility as well as 10,000 waste containers, which cost about $1,000 each. Nevertheless, Skinner says, “collection and disposal in any city costs just as much, so it's not out of line with what they'd pay if they were building a new landfill.”