Taking a step toward carbon neutrality, Google has purchased a large share of the 200,000 to 300,000 metric tons of carbon offsets that will be created through landfill waste-to-energy operations in Berkeley, South Carolina. The Berkeley Green Power Project, a joint venture with the Berkeley County Water & Sanitation, Blue Source and Santee Cooper, will capture and flare landfill gas to produce about 3 MW of electricity—enough to power 15,000 homes in the Southeast. The carbon offsets created by the project equal the emissions from electricity used by approximately 30,000 to 45,0000 US households annually.
This partnership is the most recent in a string of Google’s research and investment in renewable energy sources. In April, the company invested $38.8 million in two North Dakota wind farms developed by NextEra Energy Resources.
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 New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) recently released a draft of its plan for a new direction in waste management, “Beyond Waste: A Sustainable Materials Management Strategy for New York.” The plan aims to shift the state’s waste management focus from the end of the waste chain closer to the beginning, more emphatically supporting waste reduction, reuse and recycling. It proposes stricter regulation for solid waste management, educational programs for businesses and individuals and a shift to manufacturer responsibility in the creation of products and packaging. If implemented, the DEC projects the plan could reduce the State’s waste production from 14 million tons annually to 2 million tons.
The DEC will be holding a series of public meetings about the plan throughout the month—New York City’s meeting will be June 8th at the Department of Public Health. DEC will be accepting public comments on the draft through July 6th.
Public hearing about the draft NYS Solid Waste Management Plan
June 8th, 5 pm
New York City Department of Health
125 Worth Street, 2nd Floor Auditorium, Manhattan
The excellent “Fast Trash” exhibit—featuring Roosevelt Island‘s signature pneumatic vacuum tube garbage disposal system—closed this past weekend. A series of public programs including screenings, walking tours and even musical theater helped to make the exhibit, curated by architect Juliette Spertus, into a real must-see. The video above, which featured at Gallery RIVAA, doesn’t provide the larger international and infrastructural context of the full exhibit, but does provide a look at the history and operation of the pneumatic tube system. It also offers the reminder that no matter how elegantly designed the disposal system, garbage is not pretty.
The “Fast Trash” exhibit is a gift that keeps on giving: two excellent organizations are holding awesome-sounding garbage-focused events at Gallery RIVAA on Roosevelt Island this weekend, piggybacking on the last week of “Fast Trash”‘s run. On Saturday, May 15th, the Center for Urban Pedagogy (CUP) will screen two documentaries on New York City waste disposal: the rare and intriguing-sounding 1979 documentary Collection and Disposal, a Job for the Birds, and CUP’s own 2002 Garbage Problems.
Focused on New York’s garbage glut, Robert Machover and Catherine Pozzo Di Borgo’s “Collection and Disposal” asks where NYC garbage will go when the landfills reach capacity. Through informal interviews with the sanitation workers who each lug 6,000 pounds of trash every day, the documentary gives a glimpse into the challenges of hauling and planning for the future, and reveals some insider garbage slang on the side.
Picking up where “Collection and Disposal” left off, 2002’s “Garbage Problems” finds that three decades later there’s still no clear solution to the city’s garbage crisis. The documentary, CUP’s first-ever Urban Investigation, uncovers some of the dirty politics of putting together a comprehensive waste plan for the city.
The screening will be followed by a presentation from garbage historian and environmental planner Benjamin Miller on the prospects and challenges of implementing a citywide pneumatic garbage transport system.
And on Sunday, Urban Omnibus hosts a meet-up on Roosevelt Island to explore the Island on foot with landscape architect Donald Richardson, who worked on the its 1969 master plan. The walk will be followed by a guided tour of the “Fast Trash” show with its curator, architect Juliette Spertus. Both of these events sound incredibly interesting to us. Two great days to spend on/learning about “The Island Nobody Knows.”
Saturday, May 15, 5 – 7pm
527 Main Street, Roosevelt Island
F train to Roosevelt Island
FREE | Seats very limited, RVSP to firstname.lastname@example.org
Urban Omnibus Meet-up
Sunday, May 16th, 2010, 2pm
Roosevelt Island, meet outside the F train stop
Marketing and design agency MSLK is mounting a large-scale installation called Take-Less using hundreds of take-out containers as part of the Figment art festival on Governor’s Island in June. Latching onto the statistic that 2629 take-out meals are consumed in the United States every second, the group plans to assemble a large collection of disposable, take-out plasticware into the number 2629 atop a grassy area, reflecting on our constant incidental production of plastic waste. Anyone is invited to contribute their used take-out plasticware or containers to the project—just contact MSLK to participate. Not to reward waste production, let us add that it’s even better if you produce little to nothing that could be contributed to the project, by creating no take-out waste.
Piggybacking on last week’s front-page story on comparative waste management strategies in Denmark and the US, the New York Times runs an op-ed by former Department of Sanitation (DSNY) Commissioner Norman Steisel and former DSNY director of policy planning Benjamin Miller on the need for a new set of policy actions and built facilities to manage New York City’s waste more sustainably, locally and cheaply.
As New York City’s garbage decomposes, it releases some 1.2 million metric tons a year of carbon dioxide and its equivalents — primarily methane — into the atmosphere. On top of that, the fuel it takes to haul 11,000 tons of waste hundreds of miles six days a week releases an additional 55,000 tons of greenhouse gas per year…. Since New York began exporting its garbage, the Sanitation Department’s budget has more than doubled, to $1.3 billion in the current fiscal year from less than $600 million in 1997. And in the past seven years, the costs of the city’s landfill contracts have gone up more than $90 million, enough to pay 1,000 full-time firefighters, nurses or teachers.
The writers make a series of broad proposals, primary among which is the establishment of New York City-based waste-to-energy plants. The European examples are certainly impressive. Regardless of the City’s ultimate direction/redirection on waste management, we’re glad to see discussion on the real costs and benefits of different strategies entering public debate more these days.
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
Tomorrow is Earth Day, and Mayor Bloomberg is expected to sign new legislation into action that will substantially update New York City’s recycling program for the first time since 1989. The biggest addition to the program will be the Department of Sanitation‘s (DSNY) eventual capacity to recycle all rigid plastic containers, including those used to hold laundry detergent, motor oil and yogurt. The limiting factor in recycling these containers to this point has been the lack of a facility capable of handling them; a new facility in Brooklyn is currently being planned but won’t be operational until at least 2012.
Other stipulations of the legislation will include the DSNY clothing collection bins in various City-owned locations, DSNY collection of hazardous household waste like bleach, paint and turpentine at specified drop-off locations, and fines for landlords whose buildings fail to comply with the new law. Spaces around the city will also see 300 new recycling bins over the next three years, and 700 more within the next decade.
(via The New York Times)
The New York Times runs a very informative piece on the success and prevalence of waste-to-energy plants in Denmark, where they constitute the mainstream of garbage disposal and produce a substantial amount of the energy supply. Denmark hosts 29 of these facilities, which burn non-recyclable garbage to produce heat and electricity while filtering and capturing pollutants like dioxin and mercury rather than emitting them. Denmark has ten more plants on the way. There are about 400 across Europe.
The Times goes to some lengths—and produces a valuable information graphic—drawing comparisons between Denmark and the US, where there are 87 garbage-burning power plants, almost all of which were built at least 15 years ago. (There are none currently in construction, though there might be some on the horizon.) Reticence to invest in or build waste-to-energy plants in the US, according to an EPA official, is attributed to a host of factors: the relative abundance of exploitable property for landfills (the European Union restricts the creation of new landfill sites), fear of undercutting recycling and waste reduction programs and negative public perception. This despite federal research advocating for waste-to-energy as the most environmentally friendly waste management solution for non-recyclables.
NIMBYism is, of course, always a factor; many people do not want a garbage-burning plant in their backyard. The story notes that Danes have generally embraced the facilities, which are sited in neighborhoods of a range of income brackets and provide lower-cost energy to those neighborhoods. The Danish facilities mostly look like power plants, but given the baseline rigor of Scandinavian design, that’s still quite handsome (see image above). The Times also posts a sidebar on some European waste-to-energy plants that have grander architectural ambitions, presumably to appease lingering aesthetic concerns of local residents.