Wednesday, February 10, 2016

New York Citizens Budget Commision (CBC) Report Recommends Targeted Approach to New York City Organic Waste Diversion

The Citizens Budget Commission today released a report that analyzes the potential cost to New York City taxpayers of diverting food scraps and other organic material from landfills as part of the City's environmental agenda. The City has initiated a residential organic waste collection pilot and recently adopted a mandate on large commercial producers of food waste. By 2018 the City aims to have a citywide residential program, and the commercial mandate could be expanded as greater processing capacity becomes available.
The report - titled "Can We Have Our Cake and Compost it Too? An Analysis of Food Waste Diversion in New York City" - finds an expansion of the City's organics programs would impose substantial logistical and financial burdens. If residential curbside organics collection was expanded citywide, the program would add new costs ranging from $177 million to $251 million annually, because at least 88,000 new truck-shifts by the NYC Department of Sanitation (DSNY) would be needed, adding traffic and contributing to local air pollution. Moreover, if residential or commercial organic waste diversion were to expand significantly, accessing processing capacity close to the city would be a challenge, at least in the short run.
Given these hurdles, an alternative technology for food waste diversion -in-sink food waste disposers- should also be examined as part of the City's organics diversion strategy. This underutilized technology could divert a significant amount of food waste from landfills to some of the City's wastewater treatment plant digesters without adding new trucks to the road.
Until the City can address the high cost of residential garbage collection and secure adequate organics processing capacity, it should devise a more limited strategy. DSNY and the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) should collaborate on approaches that could achieve meaningful environmental benefits without adding new costs. Two possibilities are:
  1. Expand curbside collections only where and when additional collection routes are not required. If participation levels are high enough, DSNY could expand the organics program while avoiding additional collection routes. This could be achieved by either replacing a weekly refuse pickup with an organics pickup or collecting refuse and organics simultaneously with special trucks with two separate compartments. An analysis of the city's 59 sanitation districts finds such collection efficiencies are possible in 1 district at current organics set-out rates, and 10 districts if organics set-out rates match neighborhood recycling rates. Achieving such efficiencies would require City Council approval and a significant boost to participation rates.
  2. Consider encouraging use of in-sink disposers in select neighborhoods with adequate wastewater treatment plant infrastructure and capacity to reduce garbage collection. DEP and DSNY should collaborate to identify neighborhoods where in-sink disposers could be used without burdening existing wastewater treatment infrastructure and where trash collections could be reduced. DEP operates in a more constrained regulatory environment than DSNY so a joint effort is critical to developing a technically feasible strategy. The distribution of costs for the purchase, installation, and operation of the devices between the City, building owners, and residents would also need to be resolved.
This  analysis  finds  two  sanitation  districts in the Bronx and two in Brooklyn in areas  served by adequate wastewater treatment infrastructure could reduce trash pickup if 50 percent of residential food waste went down the sink. Implementing this strategy in  these  four  districts would  reduce  truck traffic  and  pollution  while  diverting  more than 17,000 tons of food waste and saving $4 million annually. 
CBC has highlighted the high cost—more than $1.7 billion annually—of residential municipal trash collection and disposal in New York City compared  to  that  of  other  municipalities.  In  addition  to  the  high  fiscal  costs,  negative environmental   impacts   exist   from   the transportation of waste to distant landfills and from the landfills themselves.
The  City’s One New York  plan  set  ambitious goals  to  reduce  total  waste  disposed  90 percent  by  2030  and  to  reduce  greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050. To achieve these  goals,  Mayor  Bill  de  Blasio  proposes expanding  residential  organic  recycling  to all residents by 2018.

The City Council also passed a law, effective in 2016, requiring large commercial producers of food waste to divert organic waste.
The City of New York has two separate systems for  handling  solid waste. The  Department  of
Sanitation  (DSNY)  collects  3.8  million  tons of  residential  and  government  agency  waste
each year, while more than 250 private haulers pick up 4.0 million tons of business waste.

In total  these  two  systems  cost  taxpayers  and businesses $2.4 billion per year: $1.7 billion for
DSNY and $730 million for private haulers. New York  City  residents  separate  trash into three waste streams: 1) recyclable paper and cardboard; 2) recyclable metal, glass, and plastic; and 3) everything else, referred to as “refuse.” DSNY workers collect the two recycling streams  once  per  week,  either  in  separate trucks  or  in  trucks  with  two  compartments (“dual-bin”), and refuse is collected two or three times weekly. Almost 90 percent of refuse and nearly  all  recycling  are  collected  at  the  curb with two-worker garbage trucks. 

In  fiscal  year  2014  DSNY  spent  $1.3  billion on  refuse—$826  million  for  collection  and $432  million  for  disposal—and  $411  million on  recycling,  mostly  for  collection.

Due  to fuller trucks and denser material, refuse costs $422 on a per-ton basis, versus $721 per ton for recycling. Recyclable material is delivered to  local  processing  plants.  In  contrast,  more than  80  percent  of  refuse  is  brought  to transfer  stations  to  be  loaded  onto  tractor trailer trucks, railcars, or barges for transport to  landfills  in  other  states.

The CBC was contacted for additional information but failed to respond
Citizens Budget Commission
February, 2016

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