written by Alexis Barnes, with reporting contributed by Craft II: Broadcast Spring 2014.
Did you know there are no incinerators or landfills in New York City? The city’s largest export is trash. With New Yorkers making 12,000 tons of garbage every day, where does it all go?
Although there are no longer landfills in the city proper, there are places in the city that handle sanitation. Reporter Cherice Chen created a visual heatmap showing local dumps. (interactive on right)
Fresh Kills Landfill in Staten Island was a 2,200-acre space opened in 1947 as a temporary landfill, but soon became the largest landfill in the nation- visible from space. At the peak of its use, twenty barges carrying 650 tons of garbage dumped its load there each day.
Three times the size of Central Park, Fresh Kills was closed in 2001 after pressure from Staten Island officials, residents and the Environmental Protection Agency.
Currently, New York City’s non-recyclable garbage ends up in landfills in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Virginia. Manhattan’s waste usually ends up in New Jersey. The diesel trucks that take this trash across the Hudson travel 7.8 million miles a year.
The states surrounding the Gotham are reaching their max, however, and costs to ship city trash elsewhere have skyrocketed.
The Staten Island Transfer Station still sits and operates on a portion of land at the Fresh Kills site. It processes 900 tons of Staten Island waste daily, compacting it and loading it onto railcars headed for South Carolina. It is the first transfer station under former Mayor Bloomberg’s solid waste plan, first approved in 2006.
While Fresh Kills managed Staten Island trash for years, controversy over a proposed transfer station on the East River has Upper East Side residents complaining.
Manhattan produces more garbage than any other borough, but it’s the only borough that doesn’t dispose of its own trash. Since 2006, New York City has planned to reutilize an unused garbage transfer station on a bend in the East River.
Once complete, the transfer station would reduce the amount of Manhattan’s trash hauled to other boroughs and lessen truck traffic by using barges.
Bloomberg started the effort to create an economically sound and environmentally safe process for trash in the city. The goal is to have each borough responsible for transporting their garbage to their own transfer facilities in order to reduce the burden among boroughs. Diesel-spewing trucks will also be swapped for barges or railroads.
Current mayor de Blasio voted for the Bloomberg’s solid waste plan, which included the reopening of the 91st Street station, two waste transfer stations in Brooklyn and one in Queens when he served on city council.
He stood by his stance of support for the East 91st Street Station during the race for mayor.
Composting is an option that can help avoid sending so much waste to landfills. According to Grow NYC, food waste makes up almost 20 percent of New York City’s total waste. Composting leftover organic waste that would normally be thrown out (newspapers, fruit/vegetable waste, leaves, etc.) by combining waste with soil, air and water, and giving it time to naturally break down can create naturally-occurring fertilizer.
Compost can be used as a safer alternative to synthetic fertilizer, thus making it a great option for New York City-area farms and farmers markets.