Getting NYC to 80 x 50: Waste

Articles | July 14, 2017

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Yesterday, part three of NYLCV’s series of forums on “Getting to 80 x 50” focused on waste within New York City and how to achieve the mayor’s vision for zero waste by 2030. A variety of stakeholders from both the public and private sector discussed the many flaws in our current waste management system and what the path forward should look like in order to effectively address the waste problem in New York.

On the first panel were city government officials, a representative from a private waste collection company, an architect, and the Director of City Studies at the Citizens Budget Commission. Panelists’ variety of backgrounds made for a lively conversation surrounding the best ways to collect organic waste. The panel agreed that the built environment of New York City is responsible for the current type of waste collection system that we have today, and that in order to facilitate changes in waste practices the built environment must be conducive to that change. An especially daunting obstacle to overcome will be getting New Yorkers to change their behaviors entirely when it comes to waste–it will take a lot of marketing and messaging but the panel was optimistic that it is feasible. Antonio Reynoso, City Council Member representing District 34 including Bushwick, Williamsburg, and Ridgewood, continued to be an advocate for environmental justice communities throughout the panel. He pointed to the complexity of proposed waste management solutions when he stressed that communities like his are most likely to be home to the processing plants and infrastructure for waste management, and that any proposed solution needs to be weighed for its impacts on equity.

The next panel narrowed in on processing capacity and which technologies are the most promising for facilitating the change we need to get to zero waste in NYC. One of the success stories that emerged from the panel was the pilot NYC Organics Collection program which collects organic waste from 137,000 households and 700 schools and processes them through anaerobic digestion. This generates bio-gases that can be used to generate electricity and also produces compost to be used as a soil fertilizer. The program is expected to grow in size to accommodate 500 tons a day, but the question remains of what to do with the additional 1,500 tons of organic waste generated by New Yorkers every day. A few of the panelists argued that there is capacity to build bio-digester plants within existing infrastructure, and others pushed back that there simply is not enough capacity in New York. Ultimately, though the question of capacity was never fully answered, the discussion brought together experts with a range of backgrounds to discuss their own perspective on the issue.

Jeffrey Gracer, moderator of the second panel, summed up the entire event nicely when we concluded that “This is not over, this is the beginning of an important discussion which the league (NYLCV) has started… We should continue to look for solutions… let’s create the demand for them and make them happen.”

Join us on July 27th for our last forum in the series which will be focused on the hot-topic of energy. If you missed our forum on waste, make sure to check out our white paper or watch our live stream of the event on our Facebook page.

By: Korinna Garfield

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