New York State Solid Waste Management Plan

by Barbara Warren


In January we expect the DRAFT State Solid Waste Management Plan to be released for public comment and hearings.

Background you need to know:

The Plan must be connected to Revised Solid Waste regulations but the DEC is still working on revising those and we have not seen them.

The Plan must be connected to New Legislative authority and the state legislature will have to support and pass the needed revisions.

Staffing levels at DEC are severely reduced particularly in the Solid Waste Division, as staff were diverted elsewhere. (Note Environmental Advocates of NY has been following this issue closely for other divisions, such as the Water Division. See their recent report.) This will necessarily impact the implementation of any new programs.

Funding for critical infrastructure in local communities across the state has been practically stopped as a result of the budget crisis. Recycling projects approved by DEC and completed by local governments are on a very long list awaiting reimbursement. (All grants like this from the Environmental Protection Fund are reimbursement only.) A historical note is needed here also – the majority of past EPF funding has been spent on Disposal – on closing old landfills and on incinerators. Part of the reason we have not moved the 3Rs forward adequately in the state is that only a small portion of funding was provided.

The availability of funding for Waste reduction, Reuse, Recycling and Composting will severely impact our ability to get the needed infrastructure and programs implemented across the state. The Solid Waste Plan proposes legislation that will also provide dedicated funding for solid waste programs such as surcharges on disposal and product stewardship programs, so that producers pay the costs of excess wasting. Given the current state of the economy without legislation that ensures dedicated monies will go toward zero waste programming, we are unlikely to see much more than the status quo.

The most problematic part of the funding picture is that governments that are under resourced often turn to the private sector to handle solid waste. Simply turning a function over to the private sector is not enough; there must be oversight, accountability and enforcemenThe Solid Waste Plan Itself

The Bad News

Data Collection/ Trash Haulers/ Commercial Recycling.

New York is recycling municipal trash at a rate of just 17.2%. This is a disappointing number but represented a lot of work for DEC to put together accurate figures on what is happening with trash. We only have information from permitted facilities. Trash haulers do not provide any data on what they are doing. Other states have licensed and regulated trash haulers so they can exercise appropriate oversight and enforcement. Higher percentages of clean recyclables are available from both commercial and institutional sectors than from the residential sector. Yet the current situation is that haulers are not collecting and diverting recyclables as they should be.

We discussed at the Advisory Group the need for Recycling requirements to reflect the vision of “EVERYBODY IN, NOBODY OUT.” This critical concept means that requirements should apply across the state, in every sector. Unfortunately, we do not think the Draft plan will contain a plan to license and regulate trash haulers.

Incinerators or Waste-to-Energy Facilities

Originally the State planned to build 37 Incinerators, today there are only 10 operating. Permitting new incinerators suffered from the facts and realities of their operations and environmentalists seized on the many problems of these environmentally challenged facilities—destruction of resources, toxic ash, toxic air emissions, completely unregulated emissions during startup, shutdown and upset conditions, extremely high costs and few jobs. As a result environmentalists were successful in defeating these facilities.

Today we also know that incinerators put out less energy and more CO2 than coal and coal is not looked on favorably when we are trying to deal with climate change. Recycling saves 4-5 times the energy that incinerators recover.

Unfortunately DEC had leaders for too long that pushed this unsustainable technology. At this time it seems that DEC is only recognizing the limitations ofthe newer technologies– gasification, pyrolysis and plasma arc. The historical record of incinerators in this state should be damning enough. There are major efforts now to close the Dutchess County incinerator due primarily to very high and increasing costs.


Massachusetts’ Governor just approved a moratorium on new incinerators and plans to stringently regulate existing incinerators.


There are two primary means of disposal– landfills and incinerators. DEC has been permitting and allowing the expansion of landfills in areas where landfilling is prohibited under Federal regulations, ie., wetlands. DEC claims it has the most stringent regulations anywhere in the country, however the agency regularly ignores its own regulations. DEC recently approved an expansion of the Albany landfill impacting wetlands and a principal aquifer. The Finger Lakes region is also suffering under major expansions of landfilling activities.

We also need all new landfills and all expansions to be examined thoroughly under a full EIS process, taking a hard look at the waste sheds and whether ambitious waste reduction, reuse, recycling and composting programs are in place.

One Key Problem is that the Environmental Impacts of Disposal are not adequately presented in the Plan. Those Impacts are a Powerful Driver for Pursuing more environmentally sound options.

The Good

All of the Alternatives to Disposal fall in the Good Column. We will provide more detail once we see the final version of the Plan.

In general the plan proposes to reduce waste going for Disposal over time. More definitive goals and milestones could be better.

And waste reduction, reuse, recycling and composting have reasonably good discussions.

The Plan supports Extended Producer Responsibility or Product Stewardship.

The Plan supports Requiring Pay as You Throw Programs.

The Plan proposes formally designating recyclable materials statewide with requirements for all sectors- residential, commercial, institutional.

Meaningful Disposal Surcharges

Disposal Surcharges can help provide needed local funds to build and operate needed recycling, reuse and composting facilities, to develop ideal waste reduction programs, to do outreach and education, to conduct oversight and enforcement with private sector facilities and operators. However, please take note that these surcharges are approximately $20 in Vermont. A five dollar surcharge is simply not enough to fund necessary local and state solid waste activities.

More detailed information will be circulated as soon as the Plan becomes available.

Barbara Warren is the Executive Director of Citizens’ Environmental Coalition, 33 Central Ave., Albany, NY 12210, Phone 518-462-5527

Published in the January/February 2010 Newsletter