Long Island's Garbage Comes Home To Roost
LI must act now to avoid coming trash crunch
By R. Lawrence Swanson
Long Island has been managing its solid waste reasonably well for the last 15 years. But that won't be the case in about five years unless the citizens of the Island and their political leaders
courageously address the problem now.
How much longer can we assume that our municipal solid waste and recyclables will be collected and that the services will cost the same?
The size of the waste stream continues to grow, the agreements and contracts that manage that waste are about to expire, and the impact of New York City's waste management is unknown but likely to be significantly negative.
We Long Islanders are generating more waste than before and managing less and less of it here on the Island. In 1997, the commercial and residential waste stream was about 3.5 million tons per year (about 7 pounds per person per day). In 2002, that waste stream had grown to 4.6 million tons per year (about 9 pounds per person per day). Given current projects, the waste stream could be about 6 million tons per year by 2009.
In 1997, because of waste reduction, yard-waste composting and recycling programs, Long Island diverted about 38 percent of its waste. Waste-to-energy facilities at Hempstead, Islip, Babylon and Huntington/Smithtown handled 45 percent, and 17 percent was transported off the Island. Today, garbage-burning facilities handle 35 percent of the waste stream, and we now ship 30 percent off-Island to places in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Virginia.
By 2009, when many of our current intermunicipal agreements and contracts begin to expire, Long Island will likely transport 38 percent (2.3 million tons per year) of our waste off-Island, since the incineration facilities' capacity will remain fixed and the waste-diversion rate will be about the same. In other words, some 290 18-wheel trucks carrying 22 tons each will leave Long Island every day to haul raw garbage to Pennsylvania, Ohio and possibly even Indiana - if the Hoosiers will have it.
Of course, those 290 trucks have to return from wherever they empty their loads. The negatives associated with this transportation are considerable - increased air pollution, wear and tear and traffic congestion on roads, and the unavailability of long-haul trucks. Imagine the public outcry when garbage backs up in one of our towns because trucks aren't available.
Right now Brookhaven sends its solid waste to the Hempstead facility in exchange for ash that is placed in Brookhaven's ashfill at Yaphank. At nearly the same time that agreement will expire, the contract between the Town of Hempstead and the commercial company operating the facility, American Ref-Fuel (now COVANTA), expires. It is possible that neither Brookhaven nor Hempstead could use the Hempstead facility, which now handles the waste of almost half of Long Island's 2.8 million people.
Many other agreements, including those with the other three Island facilities, also expire between 2009 and 2018. In other words, we could become almost totally dependent on environmentally insensitive, costly, resource-limited, long-hauling to distant venues.
Meanwhile, the city's waste management practices will also have a pronounced effect on Long Island's facilities and waste treatment agreements. Basically, the city has no plan other than to transport its waste somewhere else. Thus, the city may be competing for some of the same out-of-state facilities as Long Island, and the city may also be willing to pay considerably more than we do now.
Thus, as now perceived, Long Island could be relying on more off-Island transport, not only for its increased waste generation, but because it may not have access to existing facilities. From management, infrastructure and environmental perspectives, it is not good for Long Island to be increasingly dependent on long-hauling our waste.
The Island must plan now to avoid a waste crisis in 2009. Planning, siting and construction for new facilities require at least five years. In the meantime, we must restructure the existing contracts, re-examine the costs of off-Island transport, revitalize our recycling programs and reassess the Long Island Landfill Law, to say the least.
Long Island is clearly facing a looming crisis. We don't need another barge lugging unwanted Islip garbage up and down the East Coast to sully our image. We must deal with these issues now.
Copyright © 2004, Newsday, Inc.
R. Lawrence Swanson is director of the Waste Reduction and Management Institute at Stony Brook University. His colleagues, Michael Cahill and James Heil, contributed to this article.
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This article first appeared in Newsday on July 20, 2004, nearly two years ago. The problems discussed, yet largely unaddressed by officialdom, remain at hand. The situation threatens to get entirely out of hand, and the doomsday clock continues to tick down at the garbage dump. . .
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SEE, The New York Times, A Long, Long Haul From The Curb