The Solution to the Garbage Problem

by Lynne Jackson

ALBANY: Resa Dimino, Special Assistant in the DEC Commissioner’s Policy Office spoke about Solid Waste Management Planning at the July SPB dinner at the First Presbyterian Church. Resa Dimino is leading the effort to develop a new State Solid Waste Management Plan in New York State. Her talk focused on the planning the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation is doing on the state level and what DEC will be asking of local planning units as they revise and update their plans.

Resa began by saying that garbage was her favorite topic and how great it was to speak to a group who is also so interested in garbage.

Her first slide was titled “Beyond Waste: A New Approach for NYS”. The vision of solid waste management in NYS is to prevent waste, maximize recovery & reuse and involve all stakeholders – including producers. Note the first item on the list is “prevent waste”. What better way to deal with the solid waste problem that stop its creation?

Resa answered the question, “Why do we need a new approach to solid waste?” The last solid waste management plan for the state of New York was issued in 1987. The environmental impact of waste is significant, for every ton of solid waste that winds up on the curb, 71 tons of of solid waste is generated upstream. Solid waste is also connected with greenhouse gas production, energy use and use land resources. Recycling has reached a plateau. The good news, is that there are jobs and economic opportunity in recovery. Also, there are new challenges that have appeared since 1987, including electronics and pharmaceuticals,

The goals of “Beyond Waste” are to minimize waste, maximize reuse, maximize recycling, maximize recovery of organics, minimize the climate and energy impacts of solid waste management, foster good local solid waste management planning, strive for fairness and environmental justice, prioritize investment in recovery over disposal, maximize efficiency in infrastructure development, ensure solid waste management facilities are designed and operated well.

The major recommendations for the plan are to create a new solid waste management act, pass stewardship legislation regarding packaging and products, maximize recycling, divert organics (food & yard debris) from disposal, develop new funding source and strengthen local solid waste management plans.

A new solid waste management act would set new recovery goals, allocate resources for local solid waste management plans and other priorities, clarify commercial/industrial and public space recycling requirements, replace economic markets clause with list or a more workable “test”, increase DEC’s enforcement authority, develop mechanisms to ensure solid waste management facility permitting decisions do not undermine investments in reduction and recovery, update procurement and solid waste management requirements for state facilities, enact disposal bans and revisit definitions of solid waste and recyclable material.

Resa spoke about stewardship for packaging. The Canadian model requires producers pay the cost of disposing of the object or take the product back. Stewardship over products includes expanding the bottle bill, passing legislation to provide DEC authority to develop a framework for stewardship and add products as necessary. Research the best methods to properly reuse or recycle electronics, pharmaceuticals, automobiles and carpets.

To maximize recycling, the plan proposes to improve the efficiency of collection and processing systems, ban source separated recyclables from disposal, ensure disposal capacity decisions do not undermine the goal of maximizing recycling and develop a state-wide education campaign. Also, to work to develop local/regional markets and perform a Waste Characterization Study and develop standard bid specifications for government projects with OGS.

The plan proposes to continue to maximize recycling by evaluating construction and demolition debris, recycling incentives, including: developing standard bid specifications for government projects and encourage public space recycling. Data collection on recycling diversion and program performance will be improved with an on-line system.

The proposed solid waste plan would strengthen local solid waste management plans by encouraging local solid waste management units to focus on waste prevention (outreach and education); reuse (materials exchanges, building materials reuse, reuse depots, etc); to improve recycling by improving program efficiency, offer more recycling education & enforcement; provide incentives/disincentives to maximize participation; target additional materials for recycling. Incentives for construction and demolition recycling can be created through the building permit process.

Diverting organics from landfills is a very important part of the proposed solid waste plan. Removing organics from the waste stream would significantly reduce the amount of solid waste. Organics include yard debris, food processing waste, institutional food waste and residential food waste.

Effective organics recovery also requires developing a financing strategy for organics recovery infrastructure. One method would be to convene working group of funding agencies to identify funding opportunities and gaps and develop resources to fill those gaps.

Minimizing waste is an extremely important part of the proposed plans. Ways to minimize waste include reduce the volume and toxicity of packaging; encourage green building design & construction; education; government procurement; encourage backyard composting

Maximizing reuse (reuse is different from recycling!) includes: Encourage building deconstruction (so bricks and other building materials can be used again), develop regional network of materials exchanges, encourage the development of reuse Depots at convenience centers & transfer stations, and encourage design for reuse. Materials redistribution can be encouraged by bringing food to food banks and/or use as animal feed, distribute clothing to charitable organizations and give away office equipment and supplies.

To minimize the climate and energy impacts of waste management, it is important to divert organics from landfills, maximize waste reduction, reuse and recycling, require mandatory landfill gas collection, encourage landfill gas-to-energy, evaluate the climate impacts of transportation, and evaluate the climate and energy impacts of waste to energy vs. other alternatives (including recovery).

Prioritize investment in recovery over disposal by aligning state grant programs with state plan priorities, increasing state resources allocated to recovery investments, develop a financing strategy for organics recovery and upgrade recycling infrastructure.

Resa emphasized that the solid waste plan she was describing at the dinner is in draft form and that DEC is looking for feedback. Save the Pine Bush strongly approves of this proposed plan that emphasizes reduction of solid waste first, reuse second and recycling last. Minimizing solid waste and reuse are clearly best for the environment and our Pine Bush.