Corrections or additions?
This article by Bart Jackson wa prepared for the February 14,
2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Garbage In, Profit Out
When intergalactic aliens circumspectly orbit our earth,
they will spy unaided from outer space two man-made structures. First
will be China’s Great Wall — a monument to war and division. The
second will be Staten Island’s Fresh Kills Landfill — a monument
to waste. Every day,13,000 tons of garbage heap ever higher on this
pile, about half of New York City’s total. Most of the rest flows
generously into the Garden State. On July 4, Fresh Kills dump will
The time is overripe regionally and nationally for some new and
garbage strategies, beyond the landfill and the incinerator. To this
end, on Wednesday, February 21, from 8:30 to 4:30, the New Jersey
Solid Waste Policy Group (NJSWPG) will gather the state’s top experts
for a Solid Waste Summit. Community leaders, environmentalists,
entrepreneurs, all are invited. Cost: $50. Contact Priscilla Hayes
at 732-932-9155, ext. 233; fax: 732- 932-8887; E-mail:
Four years ago, Adesogi Adelaja and his cohorts at Rutgers’
Cook College founded the NJ Solid Waste Policy Group to help the state
government handle the mounting mounds of garbage. Despite an excellent
recycling program, New Jersey’s actual tonnage of stuff headed for
landfills was rising. The ICC had firmly ruled that the Garden State
must accept the Big Apple’s trash. And more troublesome, most waste
proved both unacceptable to incinerators and unable to decompose in
"We’ve begun several solutions, primarily educational," says
Hayes, coordinator of the Policy Group, "but the problems have
proliferated and thus we need the summit now." The goal is
and her arsenal of experts impressive: Richard Vile, regional
vice president of N.J. Waste Management Inc.; Gary Sondermeyer,
New Jersey DEP’s chief of staff; Sharon Finlayson, board chair
of the New Jersey Environmental Federation; and Alicia Culver
from INFORM Inc. While these pundits may be willing and wise, the
solid waste problems, Hayes admits, have grown not only in size, but
in number in the past few years.
Until recently counties could mandate at which site their
dumped trash. Now these restrictions have been abolished. With this
deregulation, trash truck "tipping fees" have plummeted from
$98 per ton to half that amount at competitive landfills. State and
county programs and trash environmental safeguards dependent on these
fees are now vanishing.
While Fresh Kills is about to close, New Jersey dumps stand already
full. This alone will triple just the cost of garbage in our area
within a year, estimates INFORM’s Culver. In addition, the East
population, fueled by an immigration influx greater than that of the
1880s, is on the rise.
The same chemistry that promised you better living now delivers more
lead, mercury, dioxins, and host of ever more bizarre toxins.
can leech them gently into your water. Incinerators can float them
low over your daughter’s schoolyard. But don’t despair, says Hayes.
Her summit speakers agree. Civilization can fix its own waste
says INFORM’s Culver, with less pain and definitely more profit than
Finlayson, board chair of the 86 groups forming the 70,000-member
New Jersey Environmental Federation, says we are being held hostage
to the idea that waste-to-energy garbage incinerators are the prime
solution. "They are the most expensive form of disposal,"
she says, "plunging municipalities into trash-hauling debt and
the state into endless refinancing. And they merely transform ground
waste into toxic air." Hayes says landfills are scarcely better.
Yet both she and PSE&G resource recovery expert Al Fralinger
state that technology exists to clean or abate the flow. Food waste
— 10 percent of the nation’s 220 million annual trash tonnage
— is almost entirely recoverable as animal food pellets and
soil for which New Jersey farmers are screaming.
Industrial waste, too, can be cut. Hayes and her panelists suggest
these practical solutions:
Solid Waste Policy Group run programs explaining the reckless
of purchasing disposable cell phones, cameras, computers and
With simple cost-saving math, they have convinced prisons, schools,
and many agencies to buy reusable, washable dishes.
Industry manufactures for thrift. "American business and
are currently at a race for the bottom (price)," says Culver,
"And it’s killing us. From virtually nowhere comes the incentive
to a manufacturer to use environmentally responsible products. We
go for thrift, we get polluted." Finally, seven years ago the
federal government mandated the purchase of nothing but recycled paper
for its use. The solid waste savings has proved staggering.
must receive both government and purchaser incentives to use
friendly materials," says Culver.
taxpayers responsible for products they’ve neither used nor taken
profit from," says Culver. Europe has established a simple and
relatively painless process where each manufacturer sees to the
and recycling of his products as well as their production. Recycling
can produce cash flow. New Jersey alone takes in $20 billion annually
from its basic garbage recycling. Many of these recyclables are now
on the commodities exchange. "Be an entrepreneur," urges
"Come get a piece of this pie."
collect his wire hangers and filmy plastic bags and he will do it.
Arrange a straight, simple profit track for him via recycling and
he will come steal your hangers from the trash. Restaurants, courtesy
of NJ DEP and NJSWPG incentives, are already saving millions of food
tons daily while putting some change in their cash boxes. "Waste
is only a lifestyle," says Finlayson. "We just need to make
some changes in perception and add some small rituals. Let’s hope
this Solid Waste Summit can make a nice launching pad for change."
— Bart Jackson
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