In a section of the job-hungry South Bronx zoned for heavy manufacturing sits a trash-transfer station. At the state-of-the-art facility, which like all such stations is enclosed to minimize odors, optical-sorting equipment and workers pull recyclable material from regular garbage so as little waste as possible ends up in landfills. Its 120 employees are paid well above minimum wage and earn promotions if they perform well. Some hail from a program that steers defendants from the criminal-justice system into productive employment.
In short, the transfer station is located exactly where it’s supposed to be, hires the people who need jobs the most, pays well and helps the environment.
Now get this: At least 20 City Council members want to cut the plant off at its knees.
In the name of environmental justice, they are sponsoring a bill to hamstring transfer stations like the one in the Bronx, which could have its waste-processing capacity reduced by 50%. The result would be more trucks carrying trash across the city for longer distances and spending more time on local streets, rather than highways.
Bronx plant owner Action Environmental Services, for its part, would be stuck with an underused $15 million optical sorter. And the Bronx, which has by far the highest unemployment and the lowest median income in the city, could see dozens of the facility’s quality jobs disappear.
The council is right to be concerned about the concentration of trucks in certain parts of the city. But this bill, known as Intro. 495, would do more harm than good. It would compel many stations to handle less waste, yet would do nothing to reduce it. With the city’s waste stream growing by 4% to 5% every year, the consequence would be more waste processing in neighborhoods and at facilities less suited for it. It’s not even certain that waste-industry businesses would add the needed transfer-station capacity or build the composting facilities the council wants, given the chilling message that Intro. 495 would send by undermining their previous investments.
This is the kind of legislation that lets politicians don a halo of environmental justice without helping the environment or doing justice. The bill purports to limit garbage trucks but will merely divert them to longer and less efficient routes. It increases disposal costs and pollution. And it pits communities against each other.
The de Blasio administration, to its credit, opposes this counterproductive bill. Its council sponsors would do well to dump it in the recycling bin. The bill they should start focusing on, which is up for a vote in July, is Local Law 146 requiring the city’s largest food waste generators to separate food waste ensuring it does not go to landfill. Suitable on-site disposal solutions offer the promise of eliminated garbage trucks removed from the city’s congested roads and perhaps eliminate the need to build composting facilities altogether. An on-site solution like The Eco-Safe Digester, manufactured and sold by New York-based BioHitech America offers customers an opportunity to become more aware of what is being disposed so that efforts can be made to reduce it entirely. That is the kind of change needed in a city looking for considerable environmental and monetary wins for their garbage and their communities.
A version of this article appeared in the March 6, 2015, online issue of Crain’s New York Business