Fighting for ‘Waste Equity’ in Trash-Burdened Areas

A waste facility in the south bronx (Photo by Sarah Crean via New York Environment Report)

A waste facility in the South Bronx (Photo by Sarah Crean via New York Environment Report)

Just three city neighborhoods – the South Bronx, North Brooklyn and Southeast Queens – process 70 percent of the city’s daily trash volume for long-distance shipment. Now residents of these neighborhoods are supporting a bill before the City Council that would spread the burden of handling toxic and other wastes across the city more equitably, Sarah Crean reports in New York Environment Report.

“We’ve had to live with this for decades; we’re going to be living with this for decades more. Our children have had to grow up like this,” observed Kellie Terry, Executive Director of The Point Community Development Corporation, based in the South Bronx.

The bill, which would cap the proportion of the city’s waste processed in any one neighborhood, is the “first tangible, real attempt to address…the clustering and the overconcentration [of waste infrastructure] in a handful of environmentally overburdened communities of color,” said Eddie Bautista, Executive Director of the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance.

Numerous City Council members, including Maria del Carmen Arroyo, who represents parts of the South Bronx, Sanitation Committee Chair Antonio Reynoso and Steve Levin, who represents parts of North Brooklyn, are sponsors of the bill, which aims to limit the amount of waste that can be handled in any of New York’s 51 community districts to 5 percent of the city’s total permitted capacity.

However, Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito has not taken a position, and the de Blasio administration does not support the bill. Kathryn Garcia, commissioner of the city’s Department of Sanitation, said at a recent council hearing on the bill that its requirements would pose logistical challenges for the Sanitation Department, especially during extreme weather or emergencies. To activists from the neighborhoods that have to cope with not just waste treatment but also waste transfer through their local streets, the need for change is clear.

The severity of the overconcentration of trash processing in low income communities and communities of color is “not just,” said Terry in an interview outside a waste facility in the South Bronx. Trucks rumbled by continuously as we spoke. “It flies in the face of all of our principles as a society, and especially of this current administration.”

Almost one-third of New York City’s trash is handled at waste transfer stations in the South Bronx, and then trucked or sent by rail to landfills across the region.

The relentless truck traffic, along with the presence of the waste transfer facilities themselves, has exacted a steep price from South Bronx residents.

A 2014 study by the state Comptroller found that the Bronx has the highest age-adjusted asthma death rate “by far” among all counties in New York State: 43.5 deaths per million residents in the Bronx, as opposed to the state average of 13.1 deaths per million.

Read what Brooklyn Council member Reynoso had to say about the question of “waste equity” and read about the frequency of waste truck visits in certain neighborhoods, as well as new efforts to monitor air quality with “wearable monitors” and make the results available, at New York Environment Report.

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