In the early days after Superstorm Sandy struck the East Coast, New York City and northern New Jersey struggle to get back to normal, and the waste industry is managing its own variety of challenges to keep up service.
The storm struck Oct. 29, and the day after the National Solid Wastes Management Association (NSWMA) was getting calls that haulers lost trucks and yards were flooded, says David Biderman, general counsel & director, safety for the NSWMA. New York City’s Department of Sanitation and Business Integrity Commission were shut down in the first week, and the Department of Transportation (DOT) was flooded. One of the largest disposal facilities in the area, Morristown, N.J.-based Covanta Holding Corp.’s waste-to-energy operation in Newark, N.J., still is closed from the storm a week later.
(Spokesmen for the Department of Sanitation and the Business Integrity Commission (BIC) clarified that it remained open for business and conducted some operations remotely.)
And waste officials were concerned about certain regulatory requirements “that you can’t comply with when there’s no electricity and no Internet.” NSWMA worked with government officials to cut through some red tape to suspend certain regulatory requirements.
“Some have been helpful, understanding that requiring a permit to put a container down on the street when the online system wasn’t working and the DOT own office itself was literally underwater made no sense, so they’ve suspended that,” Biderman says.
But not all regulatory issues had been resolved so easily. There have been delays in collections with the challenges of traffic, gasoline and transfer station capacity “that do pose some regulatory concerns, and we’re working with city officials to try to address them.”
The association also got the city to temporarily suspend transfer station capacity limits in the city – one of the biggest waste challenges the city faced. “At this point in time the lack of disposal capacity in the city is a bottleneck for promptly removing C&D (construction and demolition) debris,” he says. Many of the transfer stations are full and there appeared to be a shortage of trailers to remove all the waste that was generated quickly when the storm hit. “That has the potential to slow down the cleanup of the city.”
The problem is intensified in New York City, which is so densely populated. Residents and workers “generate a tremendous amount of material in a very small geographical area,” Biderman says. “There’s a limited number of transfer stations.”
And more trucks at transfer stations mean longer lines and waits. It could also make it more difficult for smaller haulers to have a site to dump their loads. Biderman was hopeful the transfer station bottleneck would resolve itself in a couple of days.
These remain the biggest challenges: Collecting the material and then disposing of it. A component of the latter point is transferring the material out of New York City, by rail or by truck. Biderman says he had not yet heard any figures on how much waste was generated by the storm.
He says there’s been little interruption of waste service in New York, with the city identifying only about a dozen customers who did not receive service on a particular day the first week. He heard numerous stories of business owners out driving the trucks. “It’s all hands on deck,” he says. “The carters in New York City have done an unbelievable job, getting to virtually all their customers in a timely manner.”
There were initial problems with some operations having sufficient fuel, but that seemed to have been addressed quickly, Biderman says. Some gas stations remain closed, which has caused problems for workers driving to work. “At least one company allowed their drivers to drive their garbage trucks home so they would have a way to get to work the next day.”
It will take a little while for the region to get back to business as usual. “It’s a logistical challenge to mange all of this waste material in timely and environmentally safe fashion,” Biderman says. “All portions of the industry are working feverishly to do that.”