Wishing for Zero Waste Over Landfill Parks

Fresh Kills Landfill New York City

Fresh Kills Landfill New York City

Landfills are


complex,expensive, really big things!  Fresh Kills covers 2,200 acres and has the distinction of being visible from outer space. Click on the video to learn how landfills work. (Sorry about the ad!) //science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/30218-really-big-things-americas-landfills-video.htm  Landfills are controversial in relation to incinerators or waste to energy plants because the perception is that we are running out of space to put our increasing amounts of garbage.  The Garbage Guru, David Steiner, CEO of the world’s largest trash company and self declared landfill lover has taken Waste Management from a scandal driven, polluting outlaw to its current phase as a leader in the sustainability movement.  By 2011 they maintained more than 100 power plants, converting landfill gas to electricity for over 1.1 million homes and thousands of their clean garbage trucks used landfill gas as fuel.  The company can be seen working through out the world  picking up household waste in their recognizable containers designed to be emptied by their automated trucks.  The company is currently buying up smaller companies that develop new ways to extract value from chemicals, minerals, fuels and trash.  The new Waste Management to Materials Management strategy has an estimated $10 billion potential.  If making money gets things done then this motivation can do some good for our environment as well.

The waste to energy movement has become the goal for conscientious people concerned with what our consumer culture is doing to our environment.  Puente Hills Landfill, outside of Los Angeles, California, was born in that dream. Designed to swallow 10,000 tons a day with a smokestack 450 feet high (much shorter than what the landfill reached at its closing) to convert its waste to energy, it was heralded as a garbage crisis breakthrough.  It ended up angering millions of constituents over the course of decades because they never realized it would be situated in their “backyard”.   So, even though Californians typically lead the waste to energy and sustainability movements, they would still prefer that it occur hundreds of miles away in the desert. In the end, the communities around Puente Hills traded a state of the art power plant for a even bigger garbage mountain.  It grew to 500 feet high and covered 700 acres.  Taking in more money that it could ever spend, it was able to donate $1 per ton to preserving wild lands, hiking trails, parkland and wildlife preserves that was created from capped landfill.  Eventually the entire Park required its own full-time ecologist and kept Sanitation employees working for years after the closing.  Puente Hills became the preeminent landfill project to watch and follow.


Puente Hills Landfill Los Angeles

How You Can Help:  Consider the below Waste Q & A

1.  If every country consumed like Americans, how many planets worth of resources would be required to meet the demand?  5

2.  America has 4 percent of the world’s children. What percent of the worlds toys do Americans buy and throw away?   40%

3.  How many plastic water bottles do Americans throw away every second?   694

4.  How much food do Americans throw in the trash each year?  96 billion pounds

5.  How many people could be fed with that wasted food?  4 million for a year

6.  How many of those food dollars are spent on packaging?  $1 out of every $11

7.  How much waste does the US economy create to make a years worth of food, fuel, and products for one American?  1 million pounds not including waste water

8.  How much of that total waste figure is recycled?  2%

9.  How much energy is wasted on junk mail?  1 day’s worth could heat 250,000 homes

10. How much of your life is spent opening and throwing away junk mail?  8 months

11. How many barrels of oil are used to make 1 years worth of disposable plastic water bottles for Americans?  17 million

12. How many liters of water are needed to make one liter of bottled water?  3

13. How much disposable plastic wrap is made each year in America?  enough to shrink wrap Texas

14. How many styrofoam cups do Americans throw away in a year?  25 million or enough to encircle the earth 436 times

15. How much plastic trash ends up in the ocean?  The UN estimates there are about 46,000 pcs of plastic trash per sq mile of ocean and that an additional 56 million tons are dumped, blown or washed in.

This information has been extracted from Garbology Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash written by Edward Humes.

Until next week!

Garbage Girl


Jamaica Bay Wasted?


Last weekend, Martin and I paddled our kayaks into Jamaica Bay, checking out the avid birdlife, exploring the piers, dodging the fishing lines, thinking the fishermen can’t really be eating their catch, wondering why the waterline has a black discoloration, and  imagining the passengers watching us from the windows of still low flying planes taking off  from JFK (an airport, home to bird-murdering planes and plane-destroying birds, situated on a wildlife refuge protecting birds is lost on most people).  The flattish shoreline changed to a grassy elevation that was beautiful but somehow seemed odd so we pulled the boats up to a large stack extending vertically from the shore, enclosed by a barbwire fence and warning of flammable conditions. Ah!  We’re standing on a landfill!    This natural/manmade environment often creates a weird, out of place, feeling.  We collected as much litter from the beach as we could stuff into the laundry baskets, large plastic containers, and plaster buckets washed up from I can’t imagine where, planted a discarded red West Indian flag left behind from some celebration and rode the outgoing tides back to Paedergast Basin.
Jamaica Bay is a saline to brackish, nutrient-rich estuary covering about 25,000 acres with a mean depth of 13 feet.  Located on the southern tip of Long Island, the majority of the land is publicly owned by our federal government and New York City.  Gateway National Recreation Area which covers 9,155-acres includes Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, Breezy Point. Floyd Bennett Field, Marine Park, Edgemere Park, Jacob Riis Park, Fort Tilden and numerous other fun and historic places to visit. Portions of the wetlands and uplands are part of John F. Kennedy International Airport.  Small areas in the upland buffer around the bay and on the Rockaway Peninsula remain in private residential or commercial ownership.
Jamaica Bay is protected shoreline by the federal Coastal Barrier Resources Act.    The Nature Conservancy recognizes Breezy Point and Fountain Avenue Landfill as Priority Sites for Biodiversity.  The New York State Department of State and the New York Department of Environmental Conservation designated Jamaica Bay as Significant Coastal Fish and Wildlife Habitats. The New York City Department of City Planning recognizes it as one of three special natural waterfront areas needing important attention to restore habitats and improve water quality.screen-shot-2014-09-13-at-2-13-15-pm

As part of the New York metropolitan area, Jamaica Bay, the uplands around the bay, and the Rockaway barrier beach, are dominated by urban residential, commercial, and industrial development. 12,000 of the original 16,000 acres of wetlands in the bay have been substantially altered by dredging, land fill, and development.  Virtually the entire watershed of Jamaica Bay is urban, developed land receiving pollution from a variety of sources such as municipal waste water treatment plants, sewer overflows, untreated storm water runoff from the roads and developed areas around the bay (including the de-icing chemicals from the runways at JFK), leachates from Edgemere, Fountain Avenue, and Pennsylvania Avenue Landfills now closed (a combined 400 acres), atmospheric pollution and toxic chemicals from vehicles, airplanes and boats, windblown and discarded trash, and the potential spills from increasing water transport of oil and chemical products. All of these present and historic inputs of toxins contaminate sediment in parts of the bay which have lethal and sublethal effects on benthic organisms and bioaccumulate up the food chain.

Interaction of nutrients and other gases
between the benthos and other organisms in the water column


The salt marshes of Jamaica Bay are prime habitat for migratory birds and wildlife.   The area once enjoyed a worldwide reputation for oysters and a vigorous fishing industry.  A majority of the waters and marshes have been protected since 1972 as part of the Gateway National Recreation Area.  The marshlands are diminishing at the rate of approximately 40 acres per year, most likely from rising sea levels, more vigorous storms and tons of nitrogen discharged into the bay every day. The New York City Department of Environmental Protection  under Mayor Bloomberg installed enhanced treatment measures and some progress is being made. http://www.nyc.gov/html/dep/pdf/jamaica_bay/JBWPP_Update_100108_FINAL.pdf

Jamaica Bay is also located adjacent to the confluence of the New York Bight and New York Bay.  This is the turning point of the primarily east-west oriented coastline of southern New England and Long Island and the north-south oriented coastline of the mid-Atlantic. This unique geographic location concentrates marine and estuarine species migrating between the New York Bight and the Hudson and Raritan River estuaries.  Over 330 species of special emphasis and listed species are found here seasonally or year round, incorporating 48 species of fish and 120 species of birds.  The center of the bay is dominated by calm to extreme subtidal open water with numerous low-lying islands, salt marshes, intertidal flats, and uplands, all important for nesting waterbirds. http://cleanocean.wordpress.com/cleanoceanzone/

1. Hudson River, 2. East River, 3. Long Island Sound, 4. Newark Bay, 5. Upper New York Bay, 6. Lower New York Bay, 7. Jamaica Bay, 8. Atlantic Ocean

How You Can Help:

Until next week!

Garbage Girl

Waste Paper Won’t Go Away

Can you believe these are still called waste paper baskets?!

Can you believe we still have waste paper baskets?   At least these are made from waste plastic!

When I was growing up, our swim team collected newspapers. We loaded our bundles onto a truck once a week and one of our parents drove us 25 miles north of Albuquerque to a recycling facility where they paid us $.50 a bundle.  As kids, we marveled at this cool way to make money on garbage.  That was over 4 decades ago!

Paper recycling has now become a household activity.  In Brooklyn, we separate paper from the rest of our household waste. We put it in clear plastic bags for curbside pick up once a week. Our trusted NYSD delivers it to Material Reclamation Centers for sorting and bundling. It is then sold to paper recycling centers who pulp it, de-ink it and turn it into more paper related products.

So! I was really surprised to learn that paper’s contribution to our landfills has been holding steady at 40% since the 1970’s!  What happened to the paperless computer age?  Apparently, the economics of paper recycling gets bogged down when we can’t consistently close the loop for “post consumer” recycled paper products getting bought again by the consumer, or  more simply put: supply vs demand.   In addition, technology is making it possible for every household with a computer and a printer to fancy themselves a publisher; able to happily generate massive volumes of self printing with ease.

When 365  New York Times get sealed into a landfill, they are the equivalent in volume to 18,660 aluminum cans and 14,969 Big Mac styrofoam clamshells, so it is even more shocking news that they don’t biodegrade!!  Biodegradation is the process in which insects, worms, fungi and microscopic bacteria break down a natural material and recycle its nutrients back into the soil.  Paper easily biodegrades in compost piles.  However, in a densely packed and sealed landfill it can’t get the moisture or oxygen necessary  to start the decomposition process where clostridia or related bacteria produce enzymes called cellulases that break the cellulose down into smaller molecules or sugars.  These sugars get fermented by acetogenic bacterias and produce organic acetic acid. Then other bacterias known as methanogens convert the acetic acid into methane.  Since landfills produce tons of methane, why isn’t it a byproduct of biodegrading paper?  The University of Arizona’s, now famous, The Garbage Project, which has been analyzing our garbage since 1973, discovered that only one of their encounters with the prized and sought after grey slime was from biodegradation.  This occurred while they were excavating  at Fresh Kills; a landfill in New York City.  Much more on that in future blogs!  (they actually found a newspaper they could identify from 1949)  You can read more about this valuable work in Rubbish! The Archaeology of Garbage by William Rathje and Cullen Murphy


So! Decades after we became a society conscious of waste paper’s value and the natural resources required to produce the virgin product, we are discarding more waste paper than ever and we are challenged to make reuse an economically consistent business model!

Ways You Can Help

  • Look for and buy Post Consumer Recycled paper products and packaging. You can tell by the grey color of the backside.
  • Carefully consider how products are packaged when purchasing any consumer item.
  • Recycle all newspapers, catalogs and magazines.
  • Use the back side of office paper when printing hard copies of non important documents.
  •  Keep recyclable paper clear of oils, glues, food or toxins that will degrade the quality the future paper.
  • Shred personal documents and recycle them. More on this in future blogs!
  • Bring reusable containers to your coffee house. Starbucks will happily fill your coffee container!
  • Single use shopping bags are largely unnecessary. Keep a backup of multi use bags handy for shopping trips.
  • Comments are welcome on this blog! How have you discovered ways to refuse, reuse, recycle and reduce paper?
  • Note the following list for paper items that are and are not accepted by NYSD for recycling.
    • Newspapers, magazines, catalogs ACCEPTED
    • White and colored paper (lined, copier, computer, staples OK) ACCEPTED
    • Mail and envelopes (any color, window envelopes OK) ACCEPTED
    • Paper bags ACCEPTED
    • Wrapping paper ACCEPTED
    • Soft-cover books, telephone books (paperbacks, comics, etc.; no spiral bindings) ACCEPTED
    • Cardboard egg cartons and trays ACCEPTED
    • Smooth cardboard (food and shoes boxes, tubes, file folders, cardboard from product packaging0 ACCEPTED
    • Corrugated cardboard boxes (flattened and tied) ACCEPTED
    • Hardcover books NOT ACCEPTED
    • Napkins, paper towels, or tissues NOT ACCEPTED
    • Soiled paper cups or plates NOT ACCEPTED
    • Paper soiled with food or liquid NOT ACCEPTED
    • Paper with a lot of tape and glue NOT ACCEPTED
    • Plastic- or wax-coated paper (candy wrappers, take-out containers, etc.)NOT ACCEPTED
    • Photographic paper NOT ACCEPTED

    – Learn more at: http://www.simsmunicipal.com/NYC/NYC-Recycling-Program#sthash.q091Cd63.dpuf

Until next week,

Garbage Girl

Wildlife is Getting Stuck with Our Waste

Many years ago, my parents built their dream house in the mountains of northern New Mexico. It sits pristinely on the south facing side of a mountain overlooking a wildlife preserve and one of New Mexico’s most beautiful valleys. The passive solar house within a house was a tribute to my father’s engineering skills, his passion for efficient energy use and his love for nature.

On one of my visits, I learned that the local bears were visiting their deck and toppling their barbecue grills down the mountain to share the tasty remains of a steak cooked outdoors. The concerned citizens of the community decided the bears should get three chances to misbehave or  they would be captured and relocated.  Since the bears made this area their home way before the humans did, it seems more fair to give the humans three chances to misbehave before being requested to relocate.

As we move deeper and more densely into wilderness areas, we affect the current inhabitants with our inconsiderate behaviors.

How to Help

  • Become mindful of litter.
  • Store food, garbage and recycling in wildlife-proof containers.
  • Clean out recyclables so that no food odors remain.
  • Crush recycled plastic containers.
  • Focus on proper disposing of garbage and recycling.
  • Encourage others to consider trash disposal and recycling with wildlife in mind.
  • Hang bird feeders so that wildlife can’t get to them.
  • Clean outdoor grills after each use.
  • Check with your local waste management service to see if there are other ways to help.

Until next week,

Garbage Girl

Cub with Large Plastic Jar

Cub with Large Plastic Jar

Cow with Washing Machine

Cow with Washing Machine

Raccoon with Peanut Butter Jar

Raccoon with Peanut Butter Jar

Skunk with Mayonaisse Jar

Skunk with Mayonaisse Jar