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

close.

The time is overripe regionally and nationally for some new and

dramatic

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,

businesses,

entrepreneurs, all are invited. Cost: $50. Contact Priscilla Hayes

at 732-932-9155, ext. 233; fax: 732- 932-8887; E-mail:

Hayes@aesop.rutgers.edu.

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

anaerobic landfills.

"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

admirable

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

municipalities

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

Coast’s

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.

Landfills

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

problems,

says INFORM’s Culver, with less pain and definitely more profit than

envisioned.

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

compostable

soil for which New Jersey farmers are screaming.

Industrial waste, too, can be cut. Hayes and her panelists suggest

these practical solutions:

Reduce use of disposable products. Hayes and the New

Jersey

Solid Waste Policy Group run programs explaining the reckless

stupidity

of purchasing disposable cell phones, cameras, computers and

styrofoam.

With simple cost-saving math, they have convinced prisons, schools,

and many agencies to buy reusable, washable dishes.

Look past the lowest price. Government bids for thrift.

Industry manufactures for thrift. "American business and

government

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.

"Manufacturers

must receive both government and purchaser incentives to use

environmental

friendly materials," says Culver.

Encourage entrepreneurs. "It is just not fair to make

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

cleanup

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

Hayes,

"Come get a piece of this pie."

Reward retailers. Give your dry cleaner an incentive to

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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