WHEN FRESH KILLS LANDFILL on Staten Island, N.Y., closed in July 2001, it underscored New York City's need for a new approach to solid waste management. While the New York Department of Sanitation (DSNY) had been studying alternate disposal options for years, the closure of the city's only landfill set New Yorkers to worrying about where to dispose of 29,000 tons of waste per day.

Local activists campaigned for the passage of Local Law 74 (LL-74), a measure which was passed in 2000 and required the city to assess its commercial waste management practices and to summarize that information in a commercial waste management study.

The report, completed in April 2004, focuses on the environmental assessment of the city's network of transfer stations, an issue which ranks high on the public agenda. The study found that multiple transfer stations would not adversely affect the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens, where the research was conducted and facilities are located. In addition, the study found that transfer stations did not generate significantly more traffic than other potential industrial uses in the same city areas.

That finding is in DSNY's favor because, since 1990, the city has closed almost two-thirds of its transfer stations. Fifteen years ago, 153 facilities operated in New York. Today, 62 transfer stations handle all of the city's commercial waste. The DSNY has since concluded that it is not necessary to close more sites. “The Department has doubled its inspection force to 22 people who regulate these facilities 24 hours a day, and the fly-by-night operations are gone,” says Tom Milora, executive assistant to the commissioner of sanitation and head of DSNY's permit inspection unit.

However, the DSNY was disappointed when the study deemed several potential new transfer station sites in Manhattan inappropriate. The Department is investigating the possibility of moving some commercial waste from the transfer stations to its network of eight marine transfer station terminals. No significant adverse environmental impacts would occur from such a change, the report concluded.

The growth in commercial waste production projected for the next 20 years illustrates the importance of maintaining the current network of transfer stations. According to the study, the city produced approximately 37,600 tons per day of commercial waste in 2003. That total will increase by about one-third by 2024.

The study also reported there is sufficient landfill disposal capacity in mega-landfills in the mid-Atlantic (exclusive of New York and Pennsylvania), Southeast and Midwest regions to accommodate the city's commercial waste disposal needs.

Now, New York has begun developing a foundation for 21st century commercial waste management. “The commercial waste management study will give us valuable insights on how to manage all of the city's waste using efficient and environmentally sound methods,” says Sanitation Commissioner John J. Doherty.

ACCORDING TO THE DSNY'S STUDY:

  • 37.600 tons per day of commercial was generated in the city in 2003.
  • Converted marine transfer stations are environmentally sound and more suitable options than potential sites for a new transfer station in Manhattan.
  • Final landfill disposal options outside of the city, such as transporting waste to landfills in the Mid-Atlantic, Southeast and Midwest regions, provide sufficient disposal capacity.
  • Transfer stations require better odor control systems, ones that use neutralizing agents to eliminate odors rather than scenting agents to mask odors.
  • Clean diesel technology is the best option for local refuse hauling vehicles, but natural gas technologies are suitable if funding is available.