Ten years ago today, the Fresh Kills landfill accepted its last garbage barge, closing after 54 years as a favor from Rudy Guilani to Staten Island. The dump, “visible from space, taller than the Statue of Liberty and once the world’s largest landfill,” as WNYC puts it, was on the verge of transformation, ready to embrace the “fresh” in its name. That has not exactly happened. On the plus side, there have been improvements: Less stank, less pollution, happier people on the Island. And yet, as city officials will celebrate how far Fresh Kills has come, there are cons as well. Trash is like that. All is not, by definition, rosy.
Closing Fresh Kills has meant that locations in Red Hook, Hunts Point, Greenpoint, and Jamaica, among other neighborhoods, are used as transfer stations for trash, where garbage is dropped off and picked up by long-haul trucks. Residents do not like this. Additionally, the price of doing this has gotten progressively greater, more than doubling the cost of dumping a ton at Fresh Kills back in the old days. And somehow, recycling has dropped since the closure. So there’s always more trash, which means, more costs, and more carbon…
And then there are what NRDC’s Eric Goldstein calls the true costs: the environmental consequences of switching from barges, to trucks. Instead of three barges a day taking our trash to Fresh Kills, about 600 18-wheelers head out of the city every day from those 13 transfer stations.
In order to deal with this, there are five more waste containing facilities planned to supplement the three already in operation, to “eliminate six million miles’ worth of garbage truck trips a year.” Because trash still has to go somewhere, even if not Staten Island.
The bright spot, if there is a bright spot, is that Fresh Kills will someday, some 30 years from now, be a park. A park three times the size of Central Park, with hiking and bike trails, canoeing, kayaking! A beautiful park built on sinking mounds of garbage. It is already attracting foxes, deer, and ticks, who don’t mind a little sinking. People, however, still think of it as kind of stinky, or perhaps worse, that landfill. May we suggest a name change? Thirty years should give us time to think of something good.