One neighborhood in the contentious battle over the location of the city’s temporary garbage dumps is looking to up the stakes. This week, an Upper East Side community organization, Residents for Sane Trash Solutions, released a study highlighting the adverse impacts of putting a waste transfer station, or temporary dump, in their neighborhood. They also pledged to mobilize “thousands of New Yorkers to support only politicians who publically [sic] oppose the new garbage dump.”
It’s no secret that waste transfer stations are ugly, messy affairs. Essentially, they function as holding stations for garbage from all over the city until the trash is diesel-trucked out. Residents for Sane Trash Solutions claims that such a station in their neighborhood will result in an 8 percent increase in respiratory-related hospitalizations for children. A study by their partner organization, Pledge 2 Protect, also claimed that the location of the waste transfer station would disproportionately affect public housing and residents of color.
So why is the city trying to put a temporary dump on the Upper East Side? You have to look at the context, says Gavin Kearney, director of environmental justice at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYLPI). The Upper East Side waste transfer station is part of a plan, passed in 2006, to relieve the outer boroughs of the disproportionate garbage burden that their neighborhoods–largely low-income and of color–already carry.
“The report essentially misses the point,” Kearney says. “The question for me is ‘How should waste generated by people on the Upper East Side be handled?”
Right now, the Upper East Side doesn’t have a waste transfer station. Residential garbage goes to New Jersey, and commercial garbage from restaurants and business goes “God knows where,” says Eddie Bautista, executive director of the NYC Environmental Justice Alliance. However, Bautista points out that the majority of the city’s waste goes to two communities in the outer boroughs–North Brooklyn and the South Bronx.
In the South Bronx, asthma rates are already eight times higher than the national average, and much of it due to the traffic from waste transfer stations and power plants. “We handle 23 percent of the city’s waste overall, and 100 percent of Bronx waste,” says Angela Tovar, urban planner at Sustainable South Bronx. Putting a waste transfer station that would ship by barge in the Upper Easte Side, she adds, would reduce diesel truck traffic, and therefore public health problems, throughout the city.
Still, Residents for Sane Trash Solutions aren’t backing down. “I feel for my fellow residents in Brooklyn,” Asbjorn Finsnes, executive director of Residents for Sane Trash solutions, said. “But two wrongs don’t make a right.”