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 Spring/Summer issue of the Freshkills Park newsletter, Fresh Perspectives, is up on the official Parks homepage for Freshkills Park. In this issue are a review of the past year’s expanded tour programs at the Freshkills Park site and a profile of the Department of Sanitation’s compost facility, located just beside the former landfill, in addition to the cover story, which offers a history of the Fresh Kills area before landfilling began in 1948 and an annotated map of historic activities onsite.
We put this newsletter out every six months and distribute hard copies to various parks and cultural institutions throughout the City, in addition to handing them out on our public bus tours of the Freshkills Park site. Digital archives of past newsletters are available on the homepage, under the ‘More Information’ tab.
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.
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.
Through an Artist in Residence (AIR) Program at Recology San Francisco, artists are invited to spend four months working in studio space locate at the company’s 44-acre Solid Waste Transfer and Recycling Center, where most of San Francisco’s garbage and recyclables are waylaid and sorted before being sent to a landfill or recycling plant. Artists are asked to make use of materials recovered from the waste and recycling stream and to talk to school and tour groups about the reclamation of garbage through art. Pieces produced through the program are exhibited throughout the city as well as in the 3-acre sculpture garden adjacent to the transfer station, which also functions as a buffer between the transfer station and the abutting Little Hollywood neighborhood. Many of the plants in the garden were also rescued from the trash.
The AIR PRogram began in 1990 to promote reflection on art, waste production and the environment; over 80 artists have participated. 2010-2011 Artists in Residence are: Ben Burke and Joshua Short (both currently in residence), Val Britton, Zachary Royer Scholz, Suzanne Husky, Ferris Plock, Bill Russell and Niki Ulehla. Applications are accepted annually in August.
Washington, D.C.’s Department of the Environment instituted one of the nation’s first bag taxes in January, charging 5 cents for each paper or plastic bag issued in bakeries, delis, grocery stores, drug stores, department stores and convenience stores. The result has been a dramatic drop in the number of plastic bags distributed: from a 2009 monthly average of 22.5 million bags to just 3 million in January. The regulation has dramatically reduced the contribution of plastic bags to landfills, and the revenue generated from the tax ($150,000 in January alone) will be used to clean up the Anacostia River.
Ecofreek is a search engine for materials exchange and classified sites that list objects and materials that are available for free. The site searches 45 online sources, including craigslist, Freecycle and Oodle, is searchable by city and/or state and offers links to Google Maps indicating locations of listed goods.
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.