Its not a Garbage Problem Its an Economic Problem

by Lynne Jackson

ALBANY: Albany City Commission of the Department of General Services Willard (Bill) Bruce spoke at the May Save the Pine Bush dinner.

Mr. Bruce began by showing slides of how landfills are constructed. He emphasized that the Rapp Road landfill is not just a dump, it is a highly-engineered structure and there is a great deal of infrastructure in the landfill.

Components of the landfill

He began with a photo of the electrical generation system which produces electricity from methane. One of the photos showed the by-pass flare, which burns off the methane and other gases from the landfill. Preferably, the methane should not be burned off and eventually, the Siemens Corporation is going to make compressed natural gas from the methane.

The leachate from the landfill is collected in two leachate tanks and sent to the Albany County Sewage treatment plant. Mr. Bruce was careful to emphasize that the landfill does not leak.

At the scale house, every truck is weighed before and after dumping and is charged by the ton for the garbage. A massive shredder is used at the landfill to shred and compact garbage.

What happens to the Garbage

Mr. Bruce showed photos of the recyclables which are collected. He showed a photo of the refrigerators waiting to have the freon removed so that they can be taken apart for scrap metal. Propane tanks in the trash are given to a company that re-furbishes the tanks for reuse.

Mr. Bruce then moved downtown to the DGS facility which, he noted, was built on a closed landfill. Here, the City keeps its compost facility. Leaves and twigs are collected by the City, screened, shredded, and composted. This compost is used by the city residents and city employees on yards and in the parks.

The recyclables collected in the blue boxes by the City go a company in Rotterdam for processing. The recyclables are hand-sorted, and the different items are bailed into huge bails and then sold. Newspapers, plastics, and milk cartons are all bailed separately and sold.

The current price for newspaper is about $15/ton. Compare this to the late 1990’s when newspaper was selling for $130/ton.

Metals are sold to Hudson River Recycling. A cutting machine is used to cut-up the metals. Metal is in demand in Asia and India and produces a higher price than in the US of $75/ton. A cutting machine is used to cut up the metals.

Cast iron has a market in China and South Korea. Cast iron items are loaded on a barge, and go to New Jersey.

Munich, Germany

Moving across the ocean, Mr. Bruce took us to Europe to show us what is done in other countries with waste.

The first slide he showed us was of a smiling bicyclist on top of a hill with a windmill. The photo was taken on the highest point in Munich (a very flat city) — the closed landfill.

In Germany, burn (or Waste-to-Energy) plants are accepted as a method to dispose of garbage. However, these plants are very expensive to build and operate.

A law went into effect in Germany in June 2005 that prevents any “untreated” waste can be put into a landfill. The Germans have a very aggressive recycling program.

Dresdin, Germany

Mr. Bruce said that although the Germans accept incineration as one of the treatment process, burning is very unpopular in some areas, and a lot of people do not accept incineration as what they want to do with the garbage.

The new, up and coming treatment process is biological and mechanical treatment. Mr. Bruce explained that an old mushroom factory in Dresden was made into a very high-tech bio-mechanical treatment facility, using municipal composting. About 30-40% of the garbage is moisture, and the first step is its removal.

The facility is so high-tech, that only 3 people work at a time, sitting behind computer screens. There is no hand-sorting, everything is automatic.

The final product is fuel pellets. 80% of the waste is recycled, and 20% winds up in the landfill. Construction debris (all concrete and stone) is crushed and used as new building materials. Food waste is composted. The plant has odor control using charcoal filters.

Yombol, Bulgaria

Mr. Bruce was invited to Yombol, Bulgaria to help with ideas about dealing with solid waste. Yombol is a very rural. Waste is put into ash bins, and a lot of the waste is organic. There were illegal dump sites everywhere. Mr. Bruce was invited to look at setting up a regional waste management system. Mr. Bruce showed a photo of a dump site on the edge of town. The farmers let their pigs look for mushrooms on the dumps and gypsies scavenge on the landfills.

Bulgaria would like to join the European Union, and to do so they need to have better management of their solid wastes.

Flow Control — or why we don’t have such high-tech facilities here

Mr. Bruce explained why he believed we would not get such a high-tech facility as in Dresden – because we do not have flow control and Federal regulation here in the U.S.

What is flow control? Flow control is where the government determines where a municipalities solid waste will go. Disposal of waste is dictated by regulation, say by a waste management authority. Mr. Bruce said “We thought we had flow control when we created the ANSWERS consortium.” However, a 1994 Supreme Court decision said that waste authorities violated the constitution because it restricts trade. With that decision, waste disposal is open to market forces. Mr. Bruce said that “economics is what drives” the disposal of solid waste.

For example, Allied Waste (BFI), ships 40,000 tons a month of waste from other municipalities from the Selkirk rail yards to huge landfills in Virginia, Pennsylvania and South Carolina. Its actually cheaper to ship the waste out-of-state, because landfills in those states only charge $10/ton to dump the waste.

Editorial comment: That begs the question, should Albany’s waste management system be driven by market forces? Should the waste management policy in the U.S. be dictated by who will allow the dumping of garbage the cheapest?