NYC’s $3.3 Billion Waste Deal Falls Through

Lack Of A Deal Has Significant Implications for Solid Waste Management Plan

The future of New York City’s solid-waste management system has come into question as a $3.3 billion waste deal just fell through. The contract between the Department of Sanitation (DSNY) and Progressive Waste Solutions subsidiary IESO would have shipped 27 million tons of waste by rail to a landfill in the Finger Lakes region over the next thirty years.

The twist is that It was not Progressive Waste Solutions who killed the deal, but rather the local residents of Waterloo. This is the second deal that has fallen through after a community in New Jersey similarly opposed the immense influx of city trash to their area. DSNY is now under pressure to find another vendor; whoever it may be will most likely demand a higher price.

In the wake of this failed contract, New York City faces the question of how it will meet the goals of its Solid Waste Management Plan.. Is it fair to throw the millions of tons of garbage that are annually generated into someone else’s backyard?

New York City’s solid waste system generates 1.66 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually, mainly due to transportation emissions and methane released from landfills. The IESO contract did address the first issue. Instead of using long-haul trucks to transport the city’s municipal solid waste, garbage would be transported to the Seneca Meadows Landfill via marine transfer stations and then by rail. Rail transportation releases drastically less carbon, opposed to trucks which remain the least-fuel efficient transportation technology available. This was a major cog of DSNYs plan to more sustainably dispose of its solid waste. Now its viability is being called into question in the wake of the failed deal, in spite of significant infrastructure investments already underway.

NYLCV has consistently pushed for the City to develop additional processing capacity closer to home to avoid such transportation issues and the whims of private contactors. eWaste-to-Energy (WTE) incineration is one such solution. It combusts solid waste and uses the residual heat to generate electricity. WTE is already used to process some of the city’s waste at a location in New Jersey and can be expanded to more sites close to the city. Another option, Anaerobic digestion, decomposes organic material to produce biogas that can then be combusted to generate electricity. This technology is extremely cost-effective with very few environmental drawbacks. The new thermal conversion methods, gasification and pyrolysis, decompose organic waste in high temperature, oxygen-starved environments to produce a gas which can be used to generate electricity. These thermal facilities can handle huge amounts of waste and create significant amounts of electricity.

With yet another deal to dispose of our waste in a far away landfill falling through, this is an opportune time for New York City to re-evaluate its Solid Waste Management Plan and consider making adjustments to improve not only the sustainability of how we deal with our trash but also to make the process more equitable.