he city has lurched between hasty schemes to
incinerate solid waste or export it. Now comes the idea of reopening
Fresh Kills. Here's why it is ill advised.
• Landfilling is the worst environmental alternative. Fresh
Kills, unlike modern landfills, has no protective liner under it,
which is why it annually contaminated ground water and wetlands with
1.5 billion gallons of toxic runoff and emitted more than 15 billion
cubic feet of greenhouse and carcinogenic gases. Reopening it would
require multiple liners, water and air quality controls and numerous
permits and environmental reviews. Increasing the dump's height atop
slippery liners could make it unstable.
• Reduction of waste at the source, along with reuse, recycling
and composting are the solutions favored by the Federal
Environmental Protection Agency and the city's official citizens'
advisory boards. The city has pursued these ideas halfheartedly,
continually cutting important programs. Ten years ago, the city came
close to building its own recycling plants and was developing local
markets for the materials. But it awarded the opportunity to sort
and market recyclable items to multinational conglomerates. The city
could save tens of millions of dollars with approaches like setting
up buy-back centers for recyclables in low-income areas, leaving
grass clippings on lawns and offering economic incentives to
encourage recycling and reduction of garbage.
• Landfilling is a step backward. While the city wasted time and
money on ill-conceived plans to export garbage, other cities
achieved 50 percent recycling rates without breaking the bank. They
collect and market recyclables efficiently. They buy products made
of their recyclables. Cities like San Francisco compost food waste,
which represents 15 percent of New York's garbage.
• New Yorkers want to recycle. Even though the Mayor has proposed
ending the city's container recycling program, a recent poll by
Channel 11 showed that 84 percent of New Yorkers want the program to
• Staten Islanders pushed for the 1996 state law that mandated
the closing of Fresh Kills, and they haven't changed their minds.
Their feelings are understandable. For the city as a whole, instead
of resorting to failed policies of the past, we should create a
forward-looking system that is under our own control.
Marjorie Clarke is scientist in residence at Lehman College,
the author of many articles on waste management and vice chairwoman
of the Citywide Recycling Advisory Board.