PBS Thirteen’s Sunday Arts program profiles Materials for the Arts (MFTA), the amazing and popular New York City materials reuse program. Founded in 1978 and still growing under the aegis of the City’s Department of Cultural Affairs, MFTA negotiates the transfer of hundreds of tons of materials annually from companies and individuals who no longer need them into the custody of artists and educators citywide who can make use of them. They are the largest provider of free art supplies to the City’s public school system and also serve as a treasure trove for non-profit and public entities engaged in cultural, health and social programs. We’ve been to their 25,000 sq. ft warehouse in Long Island City, and it’s truly incredible to consider their daily turnover in astonishingly valuable materials that would have otherwise entered the waste stream.
The NYC Department of Environmental Protection‘s Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant is already home of some of the most distinctive architecture in the City, the onion-dome digesters designed by Polshek Partnership Architects, as well as a lovely and serene Nature Walk designed by artist George Trakas. Not bad for a sewage plant along one the country’s most polluted waterways! And now the facility is adding another jewel to its crown: a Visitor Center, also designed by Polshek and featuring an indoor-outdoor fountain designed by artist Vito Acconci, is opening tomorrow. This will be the first visitor center for a public infrastructure facility in New York City. It’s exciting, and the exhibits should be very educational, given the scope of the operation—the plant treats more than 250 million gallons of wastewater daily.
After this weekend, the Center will be open Fridays and Saturdays from noon to 4pm.
Saturday, April 24 and Sunday, April 25, 2010
Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant
329 Greenpoint Avenue, Brooklyn
Garbage on Roosevelt Island—the 147-acre strip of land lying in the East River between Manhattan and Queens—is disposed of through a remarkable system of underground pneumatic tubes that was constructed in 1975. The Island’s 14,000 residents empty their trash into a series of garbage chutes which are emptied into the pneumatic pipes several times daily, carrying it at 30 miles per hour to a transfer station at the end of the island. There it is compacted by the Department of Sanitation (DSNY), sealed into containers, and loaded on a truck for private export to a landfill outside the city. This Automatic Vacuum Collections System (AVAC) collects and exports more than ten tons of waste daily.
A month-long exhibit on the AVAC, its history and its value as a model for future waste management operations opens today at Gallery RIVAA on the Island, with an opening reception this evening. The show, called “Fast Trash,” has been curated by architect Juliette Spertus and the design firm Project Projects (which also designed the signage and visual identity of Freshkills Park). “Fast Trash” includes explanatory diagrams, video interviews with DSNY engineers who maintain the system, and a selection of drawings produced through a collaboration between the Center for Urban Pedagogy and students from the Child School, exploring what garbage collection might look like in a future without roads. The show will also celebrate the 40th anniversary of the 1960 master plan developed for the Island by architects John Burgee and Philip Johnson. A related panel discussion at the NYU Wagner Graduate School of Public Service called “Comparative Garbage Collection Strategy and Urban Planning” will take place on May 6th.
FAST TRASH: Roosevelt Island’s Pneumatic Tubes and the Future of Cities
April 22–May 23, 2010
Opening Reception: Thursday, April 22, 6–9pm
Gallery RIVAA, 527 Main Street, Roosevelt Island
Information and reflection on plastic marine pollution continues to increase: as if the Great Pacific Garbage Patch weren’t cause for enough distress,the Sea Education Association (SEA) recently completed a two-decade study on the Atlantic Ocean and reports that a large volume of discarded plastic also floats in the North Atlantic Gyre, trapped together by ocean currents and causing harm to fish and bird species inhabiting the area.
If you’re interested in learning more, Dr. Marcus Eriksen, director of research and education at California’s Algalita Marine Research Foundation, will be speaking at the American Museum of Natural History this Sunday, March 14th, about his research and about the impact of plastic marine pollution in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.
Sunday, March 14, 12pm
Milstein Hall of Ocean Life, first floor
The American Museum of Natural History
Admission is free with museum admission
And for a more fable-like, existential take on the journey of plastic to this watery grave, filmmaker Ramin Bahrani’s short film Plastic Bag is now viewable online. The film follows the lifetime of one plastic bag, from initial use to disposal and, eventually, out to sea. At 18 minutes long, it’s not just a public service announcement but also an art film. Fittingly, then, it features music by Sigur Ros‘s Kjartan Sveinsson and narration by German filmmaker Werner Herzog.
The No Impact Project was started by Colin Beavan, also known as No Impact Man, to see if his family could live a zero-waste lifestyle for one year in New York City. Through environmental education, the No Impact Project aims to empower others to reduce their impact on the environment (the No Impact Experiment, a “one-week carbon cleanse,” is featured in the video). Beavan’s organization has developed The Environmental Education Curriculum for Middle and High School Teachers, a set of five lesson plans available for free online, focused on the following topics: Consumption, Energy, Food, Transportation and Water.
The New York Times documents a rise in university programs focused on sustainability, especially regarding the urban environment. The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education lists nine universities with master’s and doctoral programs in urban sustainability studies. Most of these programs are interdisciplinary in nature, like the new graduate program at the City College of New York that will focus on sustainability in the urban environment, incorporating the approaches of architecture, engineering and science. The growth of sustainability programs represents a shift from a focus within environmental studies on rural areas to an emphasis on the urban environment.
The post-holiday season can result in a lot of waste. Groups around New York City are offering a host of upcoming recycling and composting events to ensure that not everything simply ends up in a landfill.
- Parks all over the five boroughs will be participating in MulchFest this weekend, allowing you to bring your Christmas tree to a designated location to be chipped into mulch. You can also take away free mulch being offered by the city. 10am-2pm, Saturday and Sunday. The Department of Sanitation will also be offering curbside pickup of trees until January 15th.
- The Lower East Side Ecology Center (LESEC) is offering several E-waste recycling points in Manhattan and Brooklyn, this weekend and next, where you can dispose of unwanted or broken electronic devices.
- LESEC and the NYC Compost Project are hosting a number of worm composting workshops, for adults and for kids. Registration in required and there is a fee of $5 per person.
Plans have been announced by Bio Energy Investments Ltd (BEI) for the construction of BEI-Teesside, a biomass power station to be built on a brownfield site on the banks of the River Tees in the UK. The striking design is by British firm Heatherwick studio. The exterior shell of the structure will be covered in panels planted with indigenous grasses.
The plant will generate power from palm kernel shells, a byproduct of palm oil plantations that is considered a renewable fuel, which will be transported to the site by boat. Using palm kernel shells reduces carbon emissions by 80% compared with coal or gas, provides additional revenue to growers who otherwise treat the shells as waste and ensures that no land is diverted from forests or food production to generate the fuel. The proposed plant will generate 49 MW of energy, enough to power approximately 50,000 homes, and will feature a visitor’s center and renewable energy education center. Portions of the brownfield site not used for building construction are slated to become renewed native grassland.
In 2002, a year after the Department of Sanitation and and the Municipal Arts Society announced the design competition for the reuse of the Fresh Kills landfill, the Center for Urban Pedagogy (CUP) embarked on an investigative project called Garbage Problems aimed at understanding the processes behind waste management in New York City. Working in collaboration with students from City-As-School high school, CUP produced a variety of compelling educational materials: a playful model and design plan for the reuse of the landfill called “Garbage City“; a 30 minute video on the project; and “The Making of Garbage Problems,” a large-format collage brochure explaining the project and providing a variety of resources on waste management in the wake of the closure of Fresh Kills.
MillionTreesNYC is hosting a research symposium on green infrastructure and urban ecology and is accepting submissions of papers to be presented at that symposium.
The purpose of this symposium is to showcase research and projects that contribute to knowledge on urban landscapes, green infrastructure, and public health in cities and urban areas. We are soliciting papers on research that is either completed or substantially in progress that addresses diverse science questions in the following areas:
- Local Air Quality and Urban Heat Island
- Water Quality, Storm Water Management
- Economic Impacts and Quantifying Returns on Investment
- Urban Environmental Education, Ecological Literacy, and Curriculum Development
- Human Health and Well-Being
- Civic and Municipal Stewardship
- Green Jobs and Social Justice
- Reforestation Dynamics and Forest Health
- Biodiversity and Ecological Communities
- Green Infrastructure and Planting Designs
Submissions deadline is January 8th, and the symposium is March 5th and 6th.