When Rudy Giuliani signed an agreement to close Fresh Kills landfill by 2001, it was more of a thank-you to Staten Island for the election than a concrete sanitation-disposal plan. A decade later, the interim plan — which calls for city sanitation trucks to drop off our trash at transfer stations in minority neighborhoods like Hunts Point and Jamaica before long-haul trucks drive it out to landfills in Pennsylvania and Viriginia — is still in place. And it’s taken an economic and environmental toll. Disposal costs without the landfill are up from $43 a ton to $97 a ton, with the Sanitation Commission spending a third of its budget on exporting waste. Closing a landfill may mean less water pollution and noxious odors, but cleaning up Fresh Kills comes with its own heavy carbon footprint.
Rather than three barges a day taking the city’s trash to Fresh Kills, roughly 600 eighteen-wheelers head out of the city every day from those thirteen transfer stations. Mayor Bloomberg’s answer to the truck problem is packing garbage into containers and moving those containers out of the city by barge and train. He says it will eliminate 6 million miles’ worth of trips a year, but three containerization facilities have been stalled by litigation.
As for the plan to turn Fresh Kills into a park, it will happen over the next 30 years — and it might take that long to get people used to the idea that sitting below the dirt and vegetation at the surface are mountains of garbage. Especially when the foundation, like it has on several soccer fields, is sinking. It’s sort of like, don’t shit where you eat: don’t play where you dump.