By Dominick Calsolaro, June/July 2021 Save the Pine Bush Newsletter
ALBANY: In April, Waste Management of New York, Inc, (WM) informed residents of Albany’s South End that it was again asking the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation to approve a solid waste permit modification to allow WM to accept municipal solid waste (MSW) at its transfer station located in the Port of Albany. The facility is about 1,000 feet from Ezra Prentice Homes. MSW is putrescible waste, in other words, unhealthy malodorous garbage.
This is not the first time WM has proposed using its facility in the South End to accept garbage. In 2000 and 2009, similar proposals were made by WM and the residents of the South End came out to oppose their community being used as a dump. The South End neighborhood is a designated Environmental Justice community. A community of mostly people of color and/or low income. A community that already suffers from major health issues related to thousands of diesel-engine trucks driving along South Pearl Street, general Port operations, a recycling center, Interstate 787 splitting the neighborhood into pieces, etc. So, why was WM again proposing to bring garbage into an Environmental Justice community?
Was it because we are a community of color and low income earners so WM felt we didn’t have the financial means to fight this multi-billion-dollar-a-year corporation in the courts? Was it because, traditionally, communities of color have been the primary choice for locating dumps, incinerators (remember the notorious ANSWERS plant), and other pollution-spewing industries? Was it because historically, our elected officials have protected wealthier white suburban communities from becoming home to these same industries at the expense of low income black and brown urban neighborhoods?
In its informational public meeting fact sheet (WM cancelled the meeting, even before pulling its permit modification request), WM claims that bringing garbage into our neighborhood would be a “community benefit.” Waste haulers won’t have to drive through suburban areas to get to far-away landfills. If DEC was to approve the modification, the haulers would have been able to off-load the putrescible waste they picked up in the eight counties outside of Albany that WM services and dump it in Albany’s South End. WM tried to get city administration support by offering the city of Albany $1 per ton of garbage off-loaded at the transfer station. WM was attempting to “buy” the right to add more environmental injustices to a community that already experiences some of the highest asthma-related emergency room visits and maternal and infant death rates in the state.
If WM really cared about our community, instead of dumping on us, WM would instead build a state-of-the art Resource Recovery center. Resource Recovery entails breaking down waste, such as electronics and computers, into its component parts and reusing the copper and other precious metals in the production of new cell phones and computers. This type of facility would create a large number of jobs for the people who live in high unemployment areas. The wages earned from working in a Resource Recovery center would go a lot further to benefit the community than offering the city a dollar per ton of garbage. Resource Recovery would also have the added affect of keeping precious metals out of landfills and help get America out of its one-and-done throw-it-away mindset that we have been in since the 1960s.
I asked representatives from WM why they wouldn’t build a resource recovery facility. First they told me the “technology doesn’t exist.” When I questioned this answer, and pointed out that countries in Europe have invested in resource recovery for at least the past ten years, the representatives responded with the truth (I paraphrase): They had to build resource recovery centers because those countries ran out of landfill space. In other words, as long as waste collectors and haulers have landfills to dump their collected garbage, they will continue to take the cheapest and most profitable way out by filling up landfills and harming our environment.
Before the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation even had a chance to rule on WM’s solid waste permit modification, WM pulled its application due to public opposition. Thanks go to NYS Senator Breslin, NYS Assembly members McDonald and Fahy, Albany Mayor Sheehan, the Albany Common Council, the Albany County Legislature, the Council of Albany Neighborhood Associations (CANA), and the many other groups and individuals who contacted DEC to voice their opposition to the proposed permit modification. Thanks also go out to the news outlets who let me get the story out to the public about Waste Management’s efforts to dump on Albany’s South End an Environmental INjustice community.
Dominick Calsolaro is South End resident and former Common Council member.