Volume 74, Number 25 | Octuber 20 - 26 , 2004

Talking Point

Manhattan must share load in city’s recycling plan

By Bruce Brown, Elizabeth Yeampierre and Ray Kairys

Although we are not regular readers of The Villager, we intently read the article and editorial regarding the city’s proposal to create a recycling center on the Gansevoort Peninsula that appeared in the Sept. 15 issue of your paper [“City wants Gansevoort for barging recyclables” (news article), “A proposal to dump on Hudson Park” (editorial)]. We are members of a citywide coalition of neighborhood groups, the Organization of Waterfront Neighborhoods (OWN), which has been pushing for the city to adopt an environmentally just, marine-based system for handling and minimizing its waste. Our coalition includes representatives of the three New York City neighborhoods that bear the brunt of the city’s current waste management system: Greenpoint-Williamsburg, the South Bronx and Southeast Queens.

The current system, cobbled together after the Fresh Kills Landfill was closed, sends over two-thirds of the city’s garbage to these three neighborhoods and much of this garbage comes from Manhattan. This system is almost entirely reliant on truck transport and it transfers waste at facilities that are often substandard — lacking sufficient odor, noise and dust control, and lacking space for trucks to queue on site (much less indoors), causing them to idle on city streets. This over-reliance on trucks increases congestion from truck traffic and air pollution throughout all areas of the city. Truck traffic levels are extremely high in those neighborhoods that are home to the majority of waste transfer stations. In these neighborhoods, the substandard transfer stations and the hundreds of incoming and outgoing trucks per day create constant noise and odor, low air quality and high asthma rates, damaged infrastructure and an overall environment that diminishes quality of life and impedes community development.

The waste management system that the city is proposing now minimizes the impacts of the waste that we all create. It would significantly reduce the amount of trucks on all of our streets, make a long-term commitment to recycling and diffuse those impacts that cannot be avoided in a manner that is equitable and that supports the integrity of all of our communities. Marine transfer stations and marine-based recycling facilities will replace long-haul trucks with barges and each barge will take about 15 long-haul trucks off the street. The retrofitting of these facilities will move waste through state-of-the-art facilities that neutralize odor and minimize noise and emissions. The city has also committed to using low-sulfur diesel fuel in the trucks that serve these facilities.

The marine transfer stations are located throughout Brooklyn, The Bronx, Queens, Staten Island and Manhattan. No borough would handle more than its fair share of garbage and recyclables and it will increase the city’s control of the waste stream, creating greater potential for waste reduction. Because this system is fair, we support it even though it means that transfer stations in two of our communities, Greenpoint and the South Bronx, will continue to handle putrescible solid waste for the duration of the plan.

The city’s recent announcement of a marine-based facility in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, to handle all of the city’s recyclables was important for a number of reasons. It signals a long-term commitment to recycling and waste reduction through environmentally efficient means. This is a benefit for all New Yorkers that will only increase in the future as landfill capacity becomes scarce. It also signals a more deliberate and effective approach to handling the city’s garbage. Community members in Sunset Park, including UPROSE, support this facility for these reasons.

A recycling facility at the Gansevoort Peninsula would play an important role in this recycling system by helping get recyclable materials to the Sunset Park facility efficiently. By freeing capacity at the W. 59th St. marine transfer station for putrescible waste, this recycling facility would also help to ensure that waste generated in Manhattan does not continue to be trucked to the outer boroughs and it would also help reduce the amount of long-haul truck traffic on Manhattan streets, including on the Canal St. corridor. In addition, the city has indicated a willingness to invest in park space adjacent to the facility and a commitment to designing the facility so that the uses are compatible.

The Villager editorial, “A proposal to dump on Hudson Park,” raised a number of concerns about the city’s proposal. We share many of these concerns. We want the city to construct these new facilities and develop this new system in a manner that minimizes local and citywide impacts as much as possible. Such a system must include noise control, odor neutralization, enclosed facilities, on-site truck queuing and vehicles that operate as cleanly as possible. We are working hard to ensure that these things occur and the city has indicated that it shares our commitment.

The executive summary of the Solid Waste Management Plan that the city released on Oct. 7 is founded on principles such as fairness, environmental protection, efficiency and collaboration. We are concerned, however, that this system’s commitment to equity will falter in the face of opposition from Manhattan. Currently there is only one small waste transfer station in all of Manhattan despite the fact that Manhattan produces the bulk of the city’s waste. This transfer station handles no putrescible waste and a very small portion of the city’s fill material. We know that there is resistance to the city’s proposal to handle putrescible solid waste at the E. 91st St. and W. 59th St. marine transfer stations, and we see that there is legitimate concern over the proposed recycling facility at Gansevoort. What we ask is that we all move forward with a shared commitment to the environment and to environmental justice; that we work to ensure that all concerns are adequately addressed; and that we create a system for handling our waste that is fair and equitable for all New York City’s residents.

Brown is president, The Federation of Civic Associations Southeast Queens

Yeampierre is executive director, United Puerto Rican Organization of Sunset Park (UPROSE), Sunset Park, Brooklyn

Kairys is chairperson, Organizations United for Trash Reduction and Garbage Equity (OUTRAGE), Williamsburg/ Greenpoint, Brooklyn

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