May 13, 2020

My name is Wylie Goodman and I am the Chair of the Queens Solid Waste Advisory Board Organizing Committee. I am speaking today on behalf of my own organization as well as my fellow SWABs in Brooklyn and Manhattan. Together we represent a diverse array of residents, business owners, nonprofit representatives, and interested New Yorkers who share a common goal to serve as informed advocates to our respective Borough Presidents and City Council Members around issues of resource recovery and recycling.

According to DSNY’s 2017 Waste Characterization Study, nearly 68% of what New Yorkers throw away could instead be saved, recycled and put to productive use. This is especially true of the 34% of these materials that are organic — food scraps, food-soiled paper, and yard waste — which could easily be turned into compost, a nutrient-rich substance that improves soil health, reduces erosion, and sequesters carbon to mitigate climate change.

Once trashed, however, New York City further wastes – nearly $420M per year – exporting this co-mingled residential refuse and recoverable material by truck, barge, and train to landfills around the country where it is burned or buried. The release of greenhouse gases from these sites, including methane and CO2, have the exact opposite effect of compost’s beneficial properties: it worsens climate conditions for all of us.

There is a better way.

Until recently, New York City supported programs that helped New Yorkers be active participants in the City’s mission to send zero waste to landfills by 2030, including residential curbside collection or brown bins, food scrap drop-offs, the NYC Compost Project, and e-waste recycling. Together, these programs cost New Yorkers about $27.4M per year, far less than what we spend transporting these materials to landfills ($166M) — and with far more positive results.

While we as SWAB leaders recognize that budget shortfalls precipitated by COVID-19 require the City to look critically at opportunities to cut funding to prioritize public health and safety, we also feel strongly that the money saved by suspending community composting and recycling outreach is easily surpassed by what we will pay to alternatively collect, transport, and discard these materials. Additionally, we need to consider the secondary costs of these suspensions, including negative impacts to our air quality and climate emissions and having to cushion the blow for the over 100 New Yorkers now employed in this work who will soon be without a job. More difficult to quantify but equally important, the impact on the public’s interest in participating in recycling and recovery efforts once programs restart. The result? Decades of time and money invested lost in a matter of months.

The legislation being introduced by Council Members Powers and Reynoso (Community Organics and Recycling Empowerment (CORE) Act), we believe is thus urgently needed to reinstate the most central aspects of a distributed and community-led resource recovery model and to ensure equity in this system. Like the City’s goal of having every New Yorker live within a 10-minute walk of a park, we hope that by bringing recycling and organics infrastructure and services within reach of every New Yorker, we can rebuild the resilient and sustainable City we urgently need in the wake of this pandemic.

Link to Intro. 1942-2020 for more information. (Lead sponsor CM Keith Powers)

Link to Intro. 1943-2020 for more information. (Lead sponsor CM Antonio Reynoso)

Related article in Gotham Gazette by CM Reynoso and MBP Brewer.

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