GreenYes Archives
[GreenYes Home] - [Thread Index] - [Date Index]
[Date Prev] - [Date Next] - [Thread Prev] - [Thread Next]

[GreenYes] Fwd: Lester Brown on NYC

Richard Anthony Associates
3891 Kendall Street
San Diego CA 92109
858 272 2905 (P)
858 272 3709 (F)

  • Subject: [Gaia-members] US/MSW: Lester Brown on NYC inicneration
  • From: ann leonard <>
  • Date: Sat, 20 Apr 2002 11:57:32 -0700

For Immediate Release
Copyright Earth Policy Institute 2002
April 17, 2002


Lester R. Brown

The question of what to do with the 11,000 tons of garbage produced each
day in New York
City has again surfaced, this time with Mayor Michael Bloomberg's
budget, which proposes to
halt the recycling of metal,glass and plastic to save money.
Unfortunately, this would mean more
garbage to dispose of when the goal should be less.

The city's garbage problem has three faces. It is an economic
problem, an environmental challenge, and a potential public relations
nightmare. When the Fresh
Kills landfill, the local destination for New York's garbage, was
permanently closed in March
2001, the city found itself hauling garbage to distant landfill sites in
New Jersey, Pennsylvania,
and Virginia--some of the sites 300 miles away.

Assuming a load of 20 tons of garbage for each of the tractor
trailers used for the long-distance hauling, some 550 rigs are needed to
move garbage from
New York City each day. These tractor trailers form a convoy nearly nine
miles long, impeding
traffic, polluting the air,and raising carbon emissions. This daily
convoy led Deputy Mayor
Joseph J. Lhota, who supervised the Fresh Kills shutdown, to say that
getting rid of the city's
trash is now "like a military-style operation on a daily basis."

Instead of rapidly reducing the amount of garbage generated as Fresh
Kills was filling, the
decision was made simply to haul it all elsewhere. Fiscally strapped
local communities in other
states are willing to take New York's garbage--if they are paid enough.
Some see it as a
bonanza. For the state governments, however, that are saddled with
increased road
maintenance costs, the arrangement is not so attractive. They also have
to contend with the
traffic congestion, noise, increased air pollution, and complaints from
nearby communities.

Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore wrote to Mayor Rudy Giuliani in 2001
complaining about the
use of Virginia as a dumping ground. "I
understand the problem New York faces," he noted. "But the home state of
Jefferson and Madison has no intention of becoming New York's dumping

The new governor of Virginia, Mark Warner, proposed in early April
2002 a tax of $5 per ton on all solid waste deposited in Virginia. This
is expected to generate
an annual cash flow of $76 million for the Virginia treasury, but it
will not help New York with
its economic woes.

In Pennsylvania, the General Assembly is considering legislation that
would restrict garbage
imports from other states. As landfills in adjacent states begin to fill
up, there will be
progressively fewer sites to take New York's garbage, pushing disposal
costs ever higher.

Landfilling garbage uses land. For every 40,000 tons of garbage added to
a landfill at least one
acre of land is lost to future use. A large surrounding area is also
lost as the landfill with its
toxic wastes must be isolated from residential areas.

Mayor Bloomberg's office has proposed incineration as the solution to
the garbage mess. But
burning 11,000 tons of garbage each day will only add to air pollution,
making already
unhealthy city air even worse. Like hauling the garbage to distant
sites, incineration treats the
symptoms, not the causes of New York's mountain of garbage.

The amount of garbage produced in the city is a manifestation of a
more fundamental problem--the evolution of a global throwaway economy.
products, facilitated by the appeal to convenience and the artificially
low cost of energy, account
for much of the garbage we produce. (See Chapter 6 of Eco-Economy

It is easy to forget how many throwaway products there are until we
actually begin making a
list. We have substituted facial tissues for handkerchiefs, disposable
paper towels for hand
towels, disposable table napkins for cloth napkins, and throwaway
beverage containers for
refillable ones. In perhaps the ultimate insult, the shopping bags that
are used to carry home
throwaway products are themselves designed to be discarded, becoming
part of the garbage
flow. The question at the supermarket checkout counter, "Paper or
plastic?" should be replaced
with, "Do you have your canvas shopping bag with you?"

The challenge we now face is to replace the throwaway economy with a
economy. The earth can no longer tolerate the pollution, the energy use,
the disruption from
mining, and the deforestation that the throwaway economy requires. For
cities like New York,
the challenge is not so much what to do with the garbage as it is how to
avoid producing it in the
first place.

New York recycles only 18 percent of its municipal waste. Los Angeles
recycles 44 percent
and Chicago 47 percent. Seattle and Minneapolis are both near 60 percent
recycling rates. But
even they are not close to exploiting the full potential of garbage
recycling. There are many ways
of shrinking the daily mountain of garbage. One is simply to ban the use
of one-way beverage
containers, something that Denmark and Finland have done. Denmark, for
example, banned
one-way soft drink containers in 1977 and beer containers in 1981. If
Mayor Bloomberg wants
a closer example of this approach, he need only go to Prince
Edward Island in Canada, which has adopted a similar ban on one- way

There are other gains from reusing beverage containers. Since
refillable containers are simply back-hauled to the original soft drink
or brewery bottling sites by
the same trucks that deliver the beverages, they reduce not only garbage
but also traffic
congestion, energy use, and air pollution.

We have the technologies to recycle virtually all the components of
garbage. For example,
Germany now gets 72 percent of its paper from recycled fiber. With
glass, aluminum, and
plastic, potential recycling rates are even higher.

The nutrients in garbage can also be recycled by composting organic
materials, including yard
waste, table waste, and produce waste from supermarkets. Each year, the
world mines 139
million tons of phosphate rock and 20 million tons of potash to obtain
the phosphorus and
potassium needed to replace the nutrients that crops remove from the
soil. Urban composting
that would return nutrients to the land could greatly reduce this
expenditure on nutrients and the
disruption caused by their mining.

Yet another garbage-reducing step in this fiscally stressed situation
would be to impose a tax on
all throwaway products, in effect a landfill tax, so that those who use
throwaway products
would directly bear the cost of disposing of them. This would increase
revenues while reducing
garbage disposal expenditures, helping to reduce the city's fiscal

There are numerous win-win-win solutions that are economically
attractive, environmentally desirable, and that will help avoid the
unfolding public relations
debacle created by the image of New York as garbage capital of the
world. A response to this
situation that treats the causes rather than the symptoms of garbage
generation could work
wonders for the city.


Additional data and information sources at
or contact
For reprint permissions contact

For more information on a reduce/reuse/recycle economy, see Chapter 6
of Eco-Economy: Building an Economy for the Earth.

Contact: Lester R. Brown
Phone: (202) 496-9290 x 11
Fax: (202) 496-9325

Gaia-members mailing list

[GreenYes Home] - [Date Index] - [Thread Index]
[Date Prev] - [Date Next] - [Thread Prev] - [Thread Next]