Water Stream Issues - Set 2 [ Set 1 | Set 3 ]
The issues surrounding disposal of our garbage have changed from local disposal problems such as landfills (garbage dumps) and incinerators, to transfer stations, transportation of exported garbage and recycling. As the price of shipping our garbage to out of state landfills rises, the cost to the city for the recycling program may look less onerous. There have been repeated attempts, by the counties within the states to which we export our garbage, to establish federal regulations which would prohibit the export of garage. As long as the operators of the landfills comply with state and federal regulations, any attempt to impose restrictions on the import of garbage would interfere with interstate commerce. The Supreme Court has ruled such interference as a violation of the constitution.
Transfer stations are facilities where garbage, collected from the curbside by the Department of Sanitation (DOS), is transferred to freight trains of barges for export to out of state landfills. The transfer stations, the transportation and final disposal is done by private contractors. Locating these transfer stations has raised very strong objections by neighboring communities because of concentration of truck traffic and odors emanating from the facility. The construction of wholly enclosed transfer stations with odor control equipment, it is promised, will address the major objection to their presence.
All of New York City's landfills were deliberately located on salt marshes in an era when it was believed that marshes were wastelands and a source of disease. The euphemism for a garbage dump; landfill, is derived from this era when filling salt marshes, even with garbage, was considered to be beneficial in that it created useful land. But these old landfills did not have plastic liners, leachate recovery systems or monitoring wells and all the structural integrity required for more recently constructed facilities. Until our old mountains of garbage are capped with an impermeable cover, they will continue to leach toxic materials into adjacent waterways and ground water every time it rains. They are now being retrofitted with leachate recovery systems, monitoring wells and methane recovery systems. These landfills will have to be monitored and managed for decades to come at considerable expense. Not to do so would add to a legacy of environmental damage.
Everything we use or consume in our industrial society is an investment of energy derived from burning some fossil fuel (coal, natural gas or oil). The exception being aluminum smelting which often consumes the lion's share of energy produced by some large hydroelectric dams. By recycling the manufactured materials we use, some of that energy is recovered in addition to the raw material. Recycling paper reduces the number of trees that have to be cut and processed. Recycling aluminum saves the most energy because smelting aluminum from ore requires much more energy than making plastic or paper. Melting aluminum requires much less energy than smelting from ore.
The very best form of recycling is those yard sales where people attempt to sell perfectly good items that have been gathering dust in closets, drawers and garages. Rather than throwing usable items into the garbage, they are offered for sale at bargain prices. But last week's newspapers, magazines or empty bottles and cans are collected to be reprocessed into new manufactured goods. The cost of collecting the newspapers, bottles (plastic and glass) and cans generally exceeds their value on the market for these commodities. As more communities began to recycle, the flood of materials overwhelmed the recycling mills and severely depressed the price of some commodities. Before the demand for recycled paper developed, the City was actually paying to have old newspaper taken by recyclers.
Despite considerable promotional and educational campaigns by the DOS, the City's percentage of solid waste from households being recycled is 20.1 %. Some sanitation districts in more affluent and better-educated areas of the City recycle 30% while poorer sections go down to 11%.
An updated container deposit law would go a long way toward improving the amount of bottles and cans returned for recycling. New York State's antiquated and limited bottle bill does not cover non-carbonated beverage containers and only had a five-cent deposit. Michigan requires a ten-cent deposit on every beverage container while Maine's deposit law covers all containers with a five-cent deposit. Past efforts to strengthen New York's deposit law were repeatedly squelched by the well-funded beverage-bottling industry. Because the present law only covers carbonated beverage containers and the popularity of bottled water and non-carbonated beverages has soared, our streets, parks and beaches are littered with these non-deposit containers.