New York is thinking about diverting garbage from out-of-state landfills and using it to generate electricity locally. The plan pits concerns about city spending and carbon emissions against fears of environmental injustice.
By Bill Hughes
City Limits Magazine
In the years since a tugboat nosed the last barge full of garbage into the massive Fresh Kills landfill in Staten Island when it was officially closed back in March of 2001, the tax burden and environmental impact of dealing with New York City's trash have increased dramatically. City officials estimate that in a single year, tractor-trailers log 40 million miles to haul 3 million tons of trash from the five boroughs to out-of-state landfills, mostly in Pennsylvania and Virginia. The flat cost of shipping trash to landfills has risen from $62 per ton in 2001 to $92 per ton last year. A recent report by the Citizen's Budget Commission concluded that, "The waste that New York City sends to landfills generates about 679,000 metric tons of greenhouse gases per year – the equivalent of adding more than 133,000 cars to the roads."
The other technologies in the city's RFP, anaerobic digestion and hydrolysis, deal mainly with organic materials and would only handle a small percentage of the city's waste, meaning thermal processing might be the most effective alternative to landfilling.