New York City generates around 14 million tons of waste every year. 1
Almost all of this waste ends up in other places — in landfills, incinerators, and recycling facilities in other cities, states and countries.
Understand where is your waste going:
A complex system,^
NYC is part of a complex ecosystem of waste. For most of its inhabitants however, the waste system works almost invisibly - trash bags are put out on the curb, and the next day they ‘simply disappear.’
But the waste system functions through a variety of actors, public and private. Waste itself follows a long journey before reaching its final destination, traveling many miles and often making several stops along the way.
The journey of NYC's waste generally follows this framework:
(Where waste it is collected by regular trash trucks)
(Where waste gets sorted and put into containers for long-distance transport)
(Landfilling, incineration, or recycling, depending on the type of waste)
Mixed Solid Waste (MSW)
MSW Transfer Station
Landfill or Incineration
Paper Transfer Station
Domestic or International Recyclers
Metal, glass and plastic
MGP Transfer Station
Domestic or International Recyclers
1. On the curb in Greenpoint, Brooklyn
Let's take a resident of Greenpoint, Brooklyn for example. The waste is set out on the curb in separated bags for paper; mixed solid waste (MSW); and metal, glass and plastic (MGP). It will then be collected by multiple DSNY trucks — generally one per type of waste.
2. To a Transfer Station by Newtown Creek, Brooklyn
The mixed solid waste waste will be taken to a MSW transfer station — in this case, one run by Waste Management, Inc. at 215 Varick Ave.
Most transfer stations are privately owned and operated. There, the waste is weighed and consolidated into shipping containers, in order to be transported to its next location.
3a. To a landfill in Virginia
Each transfer station in the city has different locations and transportation modes for sending their waste or recyclables.
While most tranfer stations rely on truck transport, the transfer station above exports most of its waste by train to the Atlantic Landfill, in Waverly, VA, 390 miles away.
3a. Arriving at the Atlantic landfill, Virginia
Large companies like Waste Management tend to send their waste to landfills that they also operate, such as this one.
Atlantic Landfill is about 1,300 acres in size, and is located in the city of Waverly, VA, which has less than 3,000 inhabitants.
1. On the curb in Gowanus, Brooklyn
To give another example, let's consider the journey of the mixed solid waste from a Gowanus resident, in Brooklyn.
2. To a transfer station in Red Hook, Brooklyn
After being collected on the curb, the waste is taken to a transfer station at Court Street, in Red Hook, Brooklyn.
In 2014, this unremarkable building received 180,000 tons of waste, or about 5.6 percent of the total generated in NYC.
3. Loaded on trucks for transport
Here, waste gets loaded into larger trucks like this one, that will take it to one of its final destinations.
In 2014, these destinations included landfills in Upstate New York and Pennsylvania, ranging from 80 to almost 300 miles away from New York City.
4a. To a landfill in Upstate New York
In 2014, 40% of the waste from this transfer station, or about 72,000 tons, was trucked 290 miles each way to the Seneca Meadows Landfill, in Upstate New York.
The hills seen in the background in the picture are actually mountains of compacted trash, covered with layers of soil.
1. Paper on the curb in Greenpoint
Now let's follow the journey of a Greepoint resident's recyclable paper.
2. To a Paper Transfer Station
The paper is first taken to a paper transfer station, also in Greenpoint. Here, the paper is loaded to larger trucks in order to be transported to its next destination.
3. To Port Elizabeth, NJ
Here, the containers filled with scrap paper are loaded on container ships. These will travel thousand of miles, mostly to paper mills in China, Taiwan and India.
5. To a paper mill in Taiwan
After travelling over 12 thousand miles, the scrap paper will arrive at paper mills, like the Cheng Loong Paper Co. in Hsinchu City, Taiwan.
There, the paper is recycled and turned into various products, including containerboard. Much of this same paper will then return to US retail shelves, as packaging for imported products.
A divided system,^
This system is even more divided when it comes to responsibilities. The City is in charge of of collecting trash from residences and institutions, while the private sector handles all commercial and construction & demolition waste, which together account for most of NYC’s waste. 2
Most of the transfer stations, recycling facilities, landfills and incinerators are privately-owned and operated, or publicly-owned but privately operated.
Construction and Demolition
An expensive and polluting system,^
NYC depends heavily on waste export,
at great economic and environmental costs.
In 2014, the DSNY spent over 330 million dollars on waste export (23% of their budget), sending residential and institutional waste to landfills and waste-to-energy facilities in NJ, CT, PA, VA, SC, and OH. 3
A concentrated system and unequal system,^
Four of the city's Community Districts handle 70% of the total city's waste.
26 of the city’s 38 private transfer stations are located in these neighborhoods — in the South Bronx, North Booklyn and Southeast Queens. 6
And because the waste system is very dependent on trucks for collection and export, these neighborhoods suffer from high rates of noise and air pollution.
Alternatives to the current system,^
Many alternatives have been proposed to the current system.
These alternatives, listed below, deal with several strategies to deal with the issues of the current waste system. The issues include: air pollution, environmental justice, inefficiency, and other environmental impacts.
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Data for this work was compiled from a variety of sources. Here are some of the most important:
This website uses the Gumba template by Rick Waalders
"^" 1. CBC Report, 2012
"^" 2. CBC Report, 2012