Draft Solid Waste Management Plan Needs Closer Look & Changes

by Tom Ellis

ALBANY: Early this year, the City of Albany’s solid waste consultant, Clough Harbour & Associates (CHA), completed a draft long range solid waste management plan for the Capital Region Solid Waste Management Partnership (the planning unit of Albany and the dozen or so municipalities who now dump trash in the Rapp Road landfill). CHA worked for 16 months with a 24-person “Steering Committee” appointed by Albany Mayor Gerald Jennings. CHA and the steering committee met fourteen times between November 2008 and March 2010. Several steering committee members objected or strongly objected to parts of the report. About one-third of appointed steering committee members (the mayors or supervisors of mostly Albany County municipalities that use the dump) either did not participate in the process or attended only one or two of the meetings.

The Albany Common Council (ACC), as lead agency, voted October 4 to accept the report as complete and opened up a 45-day public comment period that ends November 19. The ACC held a public hearing October 25 at which five spoke after CHA made a presentation.

The CHA report has good ideas and others SPB opposes. For example, the plan has a list of ten steps the planning unit can take to minimize residential waste generation. These include:

* Promote PAYT [Pay As You Throw] system implementation;
* Educate consumers about how to consider waste reduction and product packaging when they are making purchasing decisions;
* Promote the use of existing programs that re-use or redistribute materials in the second-hand marketplace;
* Promote the concept of repair instead of replacement:
* Aggressive education and enforcement programs; and
* Aggressive waste reduction and recycling programs.

These ideas are all excellent. However, the report provides very few details about how, when, and if, they could or would be implemented. Nothing was offered about how enforcement would occur even though the issue of vigorously enforcing existing recycling laws in Albany was raised at several meetings by one steering committee member. At the January 13, 2009 meeting, he said, “The Melrose Neighborhood Association would like to see strict enforcement of existing laws with penalties for people who never put out blue bins with their six trash bags.”

In some ways, the report is not really a “plan” as the word is usually understood, with specific strategies, targets and dates to achieve identified goals, but an outline or a series of ideas planners can pick and choose from or ignore as they see fit. If aggressive education, enforcement, waste reduction and recycling programs are going to be set up and utilized, why are precise details of what, how and when so skimpy or nonexistent?

A major defect in the report is that while CHA asserts it is a 20-year plan (2011-2030), waste diversion (from disposal facilities) data are provided for the years 2010-2020 only. No data for 2021-2030 is provided. Are there no goals for the third decade of this century? If not, why not? How can it be a 20-year plan without this information?

The report asserts that by the end of 2020 (ten years from now), 65 percent of what residents, businesses, institutions, and governments discard can be minimized, recycled, composted or reused in some way, compared to 45 percent predicted for 2010. The report states 65 percent is the “maximum expected diversion that is achievable with the implementation of the expanded waste reduction and recycling program elements that are put forth in this solid waste management plan.” After considerable pressure from SPB and three steering committee members, CHA inserted an additional sentence into the final (March 2010) version of the draft now being considered. It reads: “However, implementation of a continuous improvement process in connection with both current and future waste reduction and recycling program efforts could help push beyond these above-noted waste reduction and recycling goals.”

On the one hand CHA insists the planning unit will pursue “aggressive education and enforcement programs” and “aggressive waste reduction and recycling programs,” but then says it will be very difficult to get above a 65 percent rate even twenty years from now. In life we know that if you aim low you achieve low; aim high and you might achieve great things. I believe CHA, Steering Committee chairman Bill Bruce, and Mayor Jennings do not want highly successful waste diversion rates because achieving rates of 85, or 90, or 95 percent shatters the justification for the large disposal facility they so clearly desire to have built and operating by the end of 2018. The first (December 2009) version of the CHA report called for a disposal facility “with a nominal capacity of 1500 TPD” [tons per day]…assuming a 65 percent recyclable material diversion rate is achieved.”

CHA continues to misrepresent the views of the steering committee. At both the September 22 ACC general services committee meeting and the October 25 public hearing, CHA asserted there was a “consensus” on the steering committee in favor of the report’s major recommendation to establish a regional solid waste management authority. What CHA says is not true. At the February 9, 2010 CHA-Steering Committee meeting at which a vote was taken on the regional authority, 11 voted in favor, 2 voted no, and three abstained. Eight SC members were absent. Less than half of the 24-member Steering Committee hand-picked by Mayor Jennings voted in favor of a regional authority; less than half of the existing planning unit’s municipal partners have endorsed the authority.

We have a lot of work in front of us. My sense is there is little support in the capital district for a regional waste authority and even less for a large disposal facility. A better alternative is a decentralized solid waste system(s) with a variety of of smaller, lower-cost facilities to reuse, exchange, repair, recycle, and compost discarded materials. Such facilities would stimulate economic development, build communities, be more flexible to changing needs, easier to establish, generate many more jobs, less risky financially, and save and/or recover far more energy than a centralized, large or giant-sized disposal (resources destruction) facility. A small disposal facility could be built if really needed.

We need to do a better job of developing and articulating healthy solid waste options, and assembling the coalitions necessary to bring about their implementation. We have vast untapped support in the capital district.

Editor’s note: Send your comments regarding the Solid Waste Management Plan to John Marsolais, City Clerk, City Hall Room 202, 24 Eagle Street Albany, New York 12207 or email to Mr. Marsolais at marsoj@ci.albany.ny.us Comments are due by November 19.



Published in November/December Newsletter 2010