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Taxes In, Garbage Out

The Need for Better Solid Waste Disposal Policies in New York City

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May 30, 2012

Managing garbage in New York City is no small task. Every minute, residents, tourists, and commercial enterprises produce more than 25 tons of waste. This adds up to 14 million tons each year, or 3,500 pounds per resident. Due to the city’s density, any disruptions in the City’s solid waste disposal system quickly lead to mounting piles of malodourous trash bags, unsanitary conditions, and an angry electorate. A nine-day sanitation workers strike in 1968 resulted in 120,000 tons of uncollected trash on the sidewalks, a mayoral request to send in the National Guard, and warnings of typhoid from the Health Department.

A good urban waste management system must not only be reliable, it should also be efficient and minimize environmental damage. This report finds that New York City falls short on these latter criteria, and identifies new policies that would make the system less expensive and less environmentally harmful.

The report is organized in four sections. The first describes current waste management practices in New York City. The second identifies the fiscal and environmental costs of the current primary method of disposal, exporting to landfills. The third focuses on an underutilized practice with potential benefits, waste-to-energy conversion at nearby plants. The last presents recommendations for improvement in the City’s current disposal policies.

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Taxes In, Garbage Out