The Lay of the Landfill

Since 1965, New York City has been forced to close its landfills, one by one, after filling each to maximum capacity.  In 2001, the city's seventh and final remaining landfill, Fresh Kills in Staten Island, was closed.[1] The New York City Department of Sanitation, in coordination with the Department of Parks and Recreation, capped the landfill and planted grass on top of it to create a park.[2] So the city gained a park, but lost our last repository for the 15,000 tons of waste generated here each day. Shutting down Fresh Kills doesn't mean that that New Yorkers have begun to generate any less trash - in fact it means we're generating so much that we've exhausted our local options for dumping. Thus the city now exports the waste to distant landfills, creating health hazards at transfer stations and for handlers along the way, plus increased costs - monetary and environmental - for waste pickup and transportation.

What does all this mean?  It means that sorting through our trash is now more important than ever.  While New York City no longer has any local waste disposal options, it does have a local recycling infrastructure in place (such as Pratt Industries paper recycling mill on Staten Island and Sims Metal Management for metal and plastic recycling).[3] Properly sorted metals, plastics, glass, paper, and cardboard reduce waste and increase the value of the recyclables, helping to create a more sustainable future for the city.  Additionally, the materials we cannot currently recycle present opportunities for innovation -

New Yorkers are accustomed to a continual on-the-go lifestyle, where we grab a coffee at 8:30a.m., a quick take-out lunch around noon, and whatever energizing snack will make our commute home a little easier.  Most of these products are in containers or wrappers that end up in landfills.

Global Green's Coalition for Resource Recovery is seeking to develop recycling streams for food packaging everyone in the U.S. has become accustomed to throwing out - paper cups, plastic clamshells, sandwich wrappers, hamburger containers -

By developing an attitude of thinking about reuse possibilities, we hope to broaden people's understanding of how every piece of trash thrown out is joined by the trash of the neighbor, partner, best friend, etc., and all of it will end up in a towering landfill soon to overflow.  This increased understanding is the impetus for more full participation in our current recycling system and for innovative new recycling streams.

Posted by Veronica Clarkson and Megan Loeb


[1]http://www.nyc.gov/html/nycwasteless/html/recycling/recycling_history.shtml

[2]http://www.nyc.gov/html/dsny/downloads/pdf/swmp_implement/otherinit/fresh_kills_closure/fkclosure.pdf

[3]http://www.nyc.gov/html/nycwasteless/html/waste_faq/waste_faq.shtml