New York City After Fresh Kills: Latest Developments in the Planning Process (the Saga continues)

Marjorie J. Clarke, Ph.D.

City University of New York Center for Applied Studies of the Environment

Paper #1056

Presented and published in the Proceedings of the Air & Waste Management Association's 94th Annual Meeting & Exhibition, Orlando, FL, June 24-28, 2001. 18 pp.


ABSTRACT: In 1996 the planning process for New York City to wean itself away from its only in-city disposal site, Fresh Kills landfill, began after the political decision was made to do so. The initial stage of planning (1996-1997) consisted of the creation of numerous reports, authored by City-State, City Council, and five Borough Presidents' task forces, which included input from the public. This paper details the process that has occurred since that time, whereby a series of interim export contracts were executed, two proposals for long-term post-closure (2002 onwards) solid waste export were issued by the City Administration, and two draft Solid Waste Management Plans and a draft and final Environmental Impact Statement were issued by the Administration and evaluated by the public, City Council, Independent Budget Office, and NYS Department of Environmental Conservation. The paper will also elaborate on the debate concerning these developments, the lack of a backup export plan should the current plan to export via a barge-to-rail site in Linden, NJ ultimately fail, the impacts of the interim export contracts, the lack of new Administration proposals for waste prevention, recycling and composting, the increasing economic viability of recycling as those costs decrease and as export costs increase (as determined by the NYC Independent Budget Office), the development and impact of a new citywide Waste Prevention Coalition and its ambitious five-year plan for waste prevention, and the fate of Intro. 482, a bill to codify a Mayoral Directive on agency waste prevention practices and agency environmental procurement practices.



In May, 1996 grassroots pressure from Staten Island residents, building for many years, effectively mounted to produce a City Council bill to close the landfill. Within a few weeks the state legislature passed and the Governor signed into law Chapter 170 requiring closure of the landfill by December 31, 2001. At the time of the decision, the landfill handled over 80% of the City's non-commercial discards, and the City was in defiance of the local law to recycle 25% of the residential waste stream, recycling only about 14%. But the closure decision was made without any prior waste management planning for this circumstance.

Residential and institutional garbage collected from the curb has been transported for decades by truck to marine transfer stations located in the four New York City boroughs other than Staten Island. Garbage was weighed at the marine transfer stations, loaded onto about 20 barges, and sent to the landfill each day (each barge carries 650 tons). The commercial waste stream, which, for some time, had been disposed at Fresh Kills, suddenly began to be exported when the City more than doubled its tipping fees to commercial haulers in 1987-88. (The commercial waste stream was estimated in 1990 to be about 14,000 tons per day, but which appears to be growing fast and has been difficult to measure). This increase in tip fees spurred hasty siting and construction of over a hundred private waste transfer stations, primarily in Brooklyn and to some degree in the Bronx for out-of-state shipment of this commercial waste. This began a second citizen revolt over waste management planning, the first (successful) one having been to oppose the Brooklyn Navy Yard incinerator.

The first stage of planning (1996-1997) consisted of the creation of numerous reports, authored by City-State, City Council, and five Borough Presidents' task forces, which included input from the public. A City/State Task Force with officials from a number of agencies was appointed to examine alternatives and make recommendations. This Task Force's report, issued in November, 1996, reflected a 5-year landfill phase-out recommendation, but the proposals on recycling and waste prevention were not ambitious, continuing the status quo of slow evolution. Whatever wastes were not prevented, recycled or composted would be exported.


The City-State Task Force also recommended that each Borough President should evaluate waste management (export) needs for his/her borough and recommend solutions. In 1997 all five borough presidents assembled task forces of interested stakeholders and produced five reports packed with recommendations to increase prevention, recycling, and composting, as well as thoughts on export, including specific sites. Most of Manhattan's report was dedicated to describing recommendations to reduce by 50% the amount of garbage to be exported.) The Borough reports tended to agree that the current Marine Transfer System (barges) should be retained if possible. The City Council then hired a consultant to write a Fresh Kills closure report, and held hearings. The Council's report generally agreed more with the tenor and expansive recommendations made in the Borough reports than with the City/State Task Force report. But these reports were largely ignored by the City.


Interim Export contracts

Meanwhile, even before these task forces began work, NYC Department of Sanitation (DOS) began to issue interim Requests for Proposals (RFPs) for companies to bid on the City's waste for export, in 20% increments per year, until 2001. The DOS has continued to issue interim RFPs for export, as use of Fresh Kills landfill has been phased-out. The following tons and rates information was assembled by the City's Independent Budget Office:

In 1998 citizens fighting the over-abundance of poorly operated transfer stations for putrescible wastes in Brooklyn, convinced the City Council that certain areas of the City contain a disproportionate number of transfer stations, DOS does not expeditiously complete environmental reviews of applications for permits for new transfer stations, and there is inadequate enforcement against operators who violate the relevant laws and rules. It has been a continuing source of frustration by residents.


The Long-Term Solid Waste Management Plan

Because the City was planning to close a waste disposal facility that handled 85% of its waste (Fresh Kills), the New York State Solid Waste Management Act of 1988 required that the City issue a modification to its Solid Waste Management Plan (SWMP) . The draft modification, first issued by DOS in April 1998 was descriptive about DOS’ accomplishments and past programs, but relatively few pages contained definitive commitments or plan milestones for future activities, and the planning timeframe ended at 2002. Regarding new initiatives, the draft modification spoke mainly about export alternatives, and relatively little about means of expanding its prevention, recycling and composting efforts.

In December 1998, without prior consultation and agreement with affected parties, the City Administration announced its decision to export most of the City’s waste on a permanent basis after the landfill closure date. This decision included the siting of permanent enclosed barge unloading facilities (EBUFs) in Newark and Carteret, New Jersey, and in Red Hook, Brooklyn, and truck-to-container-to rail export facilities in the Bronx and at Fresh Kills. From these facilities the waste would be shipped in sealed containers to out-of-City disposal sites via ocean-going barges or trains. Twenty-year waste disposal agreements would entail 3900 tons per day (tpd) to be barged from Brooklyn to Virginia; 3900 tpd from Carteret would be exported by rail or truck to disposal sites in New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Illinois; and 2000 tpd from Newark would be transported by rail and truck to Virginia and New Jersey disposal sites.

Due to the undiplomatic manner in which the City announced this long-term export plan, government officials in New Jersey, Virginia and Pennsylvania moved to halt the plan. As a result, in 1999 this plan to site EBUFs in New Jersey and Brooklyn was abandoned. In May 2000 the City issued another Draft EIS and SWMP featuring several new export facilities, many at existing DOS sites, but featuring a new export EBUF:

As DOS continued with its interim and long-term export plans, it has made few investments in creating in-City export-prevention capacity (i.e., waste prevention, recycling and composting). An important recycling milestone included in the draft plan modification was to achieve a 25% diversion rate with the curbside recycling program by FY2001. It is important to remember that Local Law 19 of 1989 had required the City to achieve a 25% recycling rate by 1994, and failing to achieve that rate, the City had seven times been ordered by various State Supreme and Appellate courts to make sufficient investments in the recycling programs to achieve the mandated recycling rate.

In 2000, DOS targets only 49% of the waste stream for recycling and composting and captures only about 45% of targeted recyclables, so 55% of targeted recyclables are in the garbage. The reason for this 45% capture rate is poor public participation. So recycling rates could be increased both by increased targeting of recyclables and compostable materials, and by more ambitious recycling education and enforcement. Thus, about 20% of the waste exported are recyclables.

The exported "waste" stream also includes a sizable component consisting of organic materials that aren't targeted for composting. In New York City, food waste is 16.3% of the waste stream and miscellaneous organics are 7.3%, or 24% of the total waste stream. Thus, almost 20% of the exported "waste" is compostable food and yard waste.

Textiles, and miscellaneous plastics account for about 11% of the total waste stream. Thus, over 8% of the exported "waste" could be reused or recycled.

Therefore, almost 50% of the "waste" that the City exports could be recycled or composted. As exporting costs $95.50/ton according to the SWMP, reducing exports by 50% could divert hundreds of millions of dollars per year to recycling / composting / prevention programs.


NYS Department of Environmental Conservation's comments

In late December, 1998 the NYS DEC produced a number of comments on the City's 1998 SWMP , requiring the City to clarify, explain inaction, and, in some cases, revisit some decisions and commitments laid out in the Plan Modification. A number of the comments reflected previous recommendations made to NYS DEC by the advisory community regarding the Plan. Some of the comments are summarized by the following points:

These comments indicate that NYS DEC was concerned about the DOS’ ability to achieve the 25% diversion rate (originally the mandated requirement for 1994) even by 2002 based on the Plan’s milestones. NYS DEC stated that DOS should have a greater commitment to defining and achieving results with its educational, composting, and waste prevention programs. DEC also expressed concerns that the City’s export plans have no expressed contingency plans, in the event of inadequacies in the private sector or unforeseen changes in out-of-City disposal capacity.

In June and October of 2000, NYS DEC again issued 12 pages of succinct comments and questions on the Draft SWMP , repeating many of its earlier remarks and adding some new ones (a small sampling):


NYC Independent Budget Office

In 2000 the City's Independent Budget Office (IBO) hired staff to oversee the Department of Sanitation. Soon after, two Councilmembers requested analyses of the SWMP and EIS, as well as costs and benefits of recycling and waste prevention programs. In February, 2001, the IBO published a study of New York City's waste stream . Though significant improvements were seen in recycling diversion rates over the last eight years, the IBO staff has sometimes had difficulty obtaining data, and some concerns were raised:


Waste Prevention Coalition and Intro. 482

In Dec. 1998, with a third of the Council as sponsors, the New York City Council introduced Intro. 482 of 1998 , co-authored by the Manhattan Solid Waste Advisory Board's (SWAB) Waste Prevention Committee, and based to a large extent on a previous environmental procurement bill and the 1996 Mayoral Directive on waste prevention. Intro. 482 aims to increase purchases by mayoral and non-mayoral agencies of more recycled, recyclable, reusable, durable, and remanufactured products with reduced packaging, increase use of warehoused items, and provide better reporting of these strategies for fostering agency waste prevention and recycling. Planning and reporting requirements are also included. A hearing was held shortly after the bill's introduction, and neither DOS nor the procurement agency, DCAS were in attendance. The Mayor has indicated his disinterest.

With citizens outraged by the interim plan and those interested in promoting waste prevention as a pro-active means of changing the status quo in attendance, a Waste Prevention forum, "Damming the Waste Stream", was held December 1999. As a result, a consortium of organizations (40 and growing as of Fall, 2000) organized as the New York City Waste Prevention Coalition to advocate that the government undertake specific waste prevention activities in New York City. Since spring 2000 the Coalition

1. has produced a set of detailed planning and budget recommendations over a five year period for a number of waste prevention initiatives (residential, institutional, commercial, composting, and measurement/research)

2. has lobbied Councilmembers on several occasions and testified at the City Council in spring, 2000 and through the summer in support of these proposals in the City's SWMP Modification for 2000 and the FY 2001 budget, and

3. has worked with City Council to improve and pass Intro 482 on Environmental Procurement and Agency Waste Prevention Practices

The Coalition's 5-year waste prevention plan involves:


Fall 2000 City Council Hearings

After the Coalition lobbied Councilmembers by for their release, DOS released the long-overdue ten waste prevention research reports by SAIC/Tellus, and weeks later (Oct. 2000) the City Council held a hearing to discuss the reports and their recommendations. Despite the negatively worded introduction written by the DOS, and the decision by that agency not to endorse their consultants' work, there were numerous specific recommendations in the reports. The Coalition prepared extensive comments detailing these for the hearing. Key recommendations in the research reports included:

On October 31, 2000 DOS released a Final EIS slightly revised from May 2000, and a not-at-all revised SWMP. Since a 1993 statute gave the City Council the authority to review and ability to reject a plan within a 30-day period after its release, Council held two hearings on the subject during November, 2000. During at least six hours of testimony from the solid waste advisory community, environmental organizations and citizens, from New York and New Jersey, who filled Council chambers, and which was well covered by the local press, all who testified criticized the plan and urged its rejection. Objections included that the environmental impacts of the interim export contracts are significant, are being ignored by DOS, and may continue for many years, and that the DOS has no waste prevention plan for the future, and little proposed to increase recycling and composting. Their hope was that the City would reissue a Plan which reflected a longer planning timeframe, adequate waste prevention, recycling, and composting commitments to meet the State's 1997 40% recycling / 10% reduction goals, support of Intro 482, and a plan for enforcing commercial sector recycling and prevention, and which addressed the continued impacts on Brooklyn and Bronx neighborhoods of the interim export contracts. It was made clear during the hearings that Council was negotiating with DOS on revisions to the Plan and support of Intro. 482.

In the end, despite statements from many Councilmembers that they would send the Plan back to DOS for substantially more revisions to improve waste prevention and recycling, the Council did receive a number of concessions from the Administration, and approved the modified Plan:

      1. recycled products or packaging made from post-consumer materials;
      2. products or packaging manufactured from recyclable materials;
      3. products, packaging or equipment that are remanufactured or reused, or
      4. products or packaging that facilitate waste prevention.

This is one of many provisions in Intro. 482, a bill co-authored by the Manhattan Solid Waste Advisory Board's waste prevention committee.

The Administration has committed to staggering the expiration dates of the contracts which will better keep the City’s waste transfer and disposal operations from being interrupted and increase the City’s negotiating leverage.

Moreover, it is expected that there will be provisions in these contracts that will permit cancellation if it is determined to be in the best interests of the City. For example, the Council suggested to DOS that the contracts should contain a provision for a review of any new technologies for processing solid waste, and the City should have the option to employ these technologies. DOS has responded to Council inquiries that they do not envision contracts that will preclude the use of new technologies if that is determined to be in the City’s best interests.

Under the agreement with Council, DOS is required to present to the Council by the last quarter of 2001 data necessary to conduct the study and a report on the completed study within 18 months after the consultant contract is registered and at least two (2) months prior to submission of the next comprehensive solid waste management plan.

While the Sanitation Department prepared to implement the above new programs, research study, and pilots, it completed its contracts to export all of New York City's residential and institutional waste, and in March, 2001 the City shipped its last waste to Fresh Kills landfill, nine months ahead of schedule.



The future of solid waste management in New York City remains uncertain, but there is cause for cautious optimism. For years the City showed a pattern of fighting City laws and Court rulings (Local Law 40 and Local Law 19), writing SWMPs that lacked important details and contingency measures, ignoring NYS DEC, ignoring the advisory community, and making major decisions on solid waste management without the benefit of advice and consent of affected parties (neighborhoods, other states). The City has proceeded to export thousands of tons of waste per day and develop plans for 20-year contracts for exporting wastes which consists of at least 50% recyclables and compostables, without moving aggressively to reduce, recycle and compost as much of that waste as possible. This has engendered a backlash from many directions and a feeling of anger and mistrust. The City has, by its actions, exacerbated a difficult situation (the need to design and implement within five and a half years, a plan to manage 13,000 tons per day that had gone to Fresh Kills), and has risked its export plans for a perceived expediency.

Despite the disinterest in optimizing recycling and reduction by the current Administration, it did agree to implement a number of modifications to its Solid Waste Management Plan over the next two years. There is a still a question as to whether the City will actually achieve its 2001 recycling requirements. Since the citywide offices are subject to term limits, there will be a new Mayor and two-thirds of the Council will be new. The future of solid waste management in New York City will depend to a large degree on who is elected Mayor later this year, and who will be elected to City Council.



New York City Solid Waste Management Plan Final GEIS, Chapter 1, October 28, 1992.

The DOS Report: Closing the Fresh Kills Landfill.

Background Paper, "Overview of the Waste Stream Managed by the NYC Department of Sanitation", City of New York Independent Budget Office, February, 2001.

Personal communication. Ron Klempner, Managing Principal, American Marine Rail, LLC

Comprehensive Solid Waste Management Plan: Draft Modification, City of New York, Department of Sanitation. April 3, 1998.

"Mayor Giuliani Releases Long-Term Waste Management Plan for New York City", Press Release #546-98, City of New York, Office of the Mayor, December 1, 1998.

"2001 and Beyond: A Proposed Plan for Replacing the Fresh Kills Landfill", Executive Summary., NYC Department of Sanitation, December, 1998.

New York City Department of Sanitation Comprehensive Solid Waste Management Plan

Draft Modification and Draft Environmental Impact Statement. May, 2000.

"DEC Comments on NYCDOS’s Draft Solid Waste Management Plan Modification", December 21, 1998.

Letter from Charles de Quillfeldt, Regional Permit Administrator, NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, Region 2 to Martha Hirst, Deputy Commissioner, NYC DOS, June 23, 2000.

Letter from Glenn Milstrey, Acting Regional Solid Waste Engineer, NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, Region 2 to Martha Hirst, Deputy Commissioner, NYC DOS, October 24, 2000.

Background Paper, "Overview of the Waste Stream Managed by the NYC Department of Sanitation", City of New York Independent Budget Office, February, 2001.

"Intro. 482 of 1998". New York City Council bills.

New York City Department of Sanitation Waste Prevention Research Reports

New York City Department of Sanitation Comprehensive Solid Waste Management Plan

Draft Modification and Draft Environmental Impact Statement. May, 2000.

Personal communication, Sherry Login, solid waste budget analyst for the NYC Independent Budget Office, quoting DOS figures, November, 2000.


Memorandum, " Improvements to the Modification to the Solid Waste Management Plan" to all Councilmembers, from Peter F. Vallone, Speaker of the New York City Council and Stanley Michels, Chair of the Committee on Environmental Protection, November 27, 2000



Keywords: Solid waste management planning; waste export; waste prevention; recycling; composting; New York City; citizens advisory committees; Fresh Kills landfill