The recent announcement that the city’s pilot organics program would be introduced to parts of Greenpoint and Williamsburg has residents concerned about an uptick in the amount of waste processed in Brooklyn’s northern most neighborhoods, which already handle a disproportionate burden of the city’s waste processing burden.
And while the community’s response to the organics program is generally positive, some fear that once it’s implemented citywide, North Brooklyn will become the epicenter of organics processing in the city, adding to the neighborhood’s current responsibility of processing three-fourth’s of the city’s trash.
“I don’t think the city has taken the whole picture into account and we’ve only been getting blips of information about the program,” said Laura Hofmann, a longtime neighborhood activist. “What is the community going to get out of this? We want to know what the benefit package is and how it will affect the environment. While it might have a benefit to all of Brooklyn in general I’m not sure of the local environmental impact it will have.”
The voluntary organics collection program kicked-off in the fall of 2012 when the city’s Department of Sanitation (DSNY) began offering curbside collection of organic waste to some schools and public institutions.
The following year, with a push from Mayor Bill de Blasio, including a persuasive commercial featuring his family learning to separate organics, the program became law, with DSNY implementing it as a pilot program until the summer of 2015, with the possibility of a citywide implementation if deemed successful.
The program seeks to reduce the cost of bringing the waste to landfills, by creating renewable energy and composting. It will also prevent pests with the help of special rodent-resistant bins.
The pilot program has already been introduced in neighborhoods like Park Slope and Bay Ridge in Brooklyn; Maspeth in Queens; and Throgs Neck in the Bronx, and has witnessed participation ranging from 12 to 45 percent according to the DSNY.
But with organic waste, at the inception of the program, having been processed at Waste Management’s Varick Street site and a renewable energy facility being built at Newtown Creek by National Grid, concerns are being raise that expanding the program means additional trucks and pollution for the neighborhood.
At present, 15-20 trucks collect refuse in Brooklyn Community District 1, according to DSNY. An additional 5 to 10 collect recycling – paper, metal, glass, and plastic. The organics program is expected to add two additional trucks to the coverage area, according to DSNY. Refuse is collected three times a week and recycling once.
DSNY says its trucks are fuel-efficient.
“All DSNY trucks run on Ultra Low Sulfur Diesel or natural gas,” said a department spokesperson. “Since 2005, DSNY has cut particulate matter emissions from our trucks by more than 90 percent. The Department operates one of the cleanest fleets in the nation.”
However, how the waste gets to Varick Street for processing and later to the Creek for conversion to energy is the subject of questions, as is the amount of organic waste that could be shipped in from all over the city.
Last year, National Grid announced a partnership with the city’s Department of Environmental Protection that would see the construction of a new building at its existing Newtown Creek facility. The facility, which is expected to start construction this summer, will generate renewable natural gas.
At the time of the announcement, both parties involved expected that the implementation of the organics collection program would ultimately help generate enough energy at the new National Grid building at Newtown Creek to heat 5,200 homes across the city.
This, residents complain, indicates that once the organics program is up and running throughout the city, could means dozens of other trucks from across the city bringing in more waste to be processed in their neighborhoods.
Councilmember Antonio Reynoso, Chair of the Council’s Sanitation Committee, expects the net benefit from reducing the overall amount of waste destined for landfills would be high in the long run.
“Ultimately, increasing our rate of diversion from landfills leads to fewer long-haul trucks on our streets and a more sustainable system,” Reynoso said. “While the last thing we want is more trucks in our community, the impact of processing organics in CB1 will be minimal compared to the processing of other types of waste. I will continue fighting in the Council for legislation that decreases the impact of truck traffic related to waste processing.”
DSNY hasn’t announced an official date for putting the new bins into place, but the pilot program ends in July, when DSNY is required to report to the Mayor who will then consider making it a citywide initiative.