Good morning. My name is Jeremy Reiss and I am the Co-Project Director of Urban Agenda, a joint research and policy initiative of the NYC Central Labor Council and Queens College Labor Resource Center. Urban Agenda is spearheading NYC Apollo, a growing coalition of labor unions, business leaders, environmental justice advocates, and educators convened to optimize energy usage in a way that creates jobs, revitalizes underserved communities, and improves our environment. We are also participating in the NYC Zero Waste campaign. Thank you for allowing me to testify before you today.
The Solid Waste Management Plan (SWMP) under review today presents some noteworthy opportunities. For instance, we are pleased that the city is choosing to utilize multi-modal transportation networks in its SWMP. Environmental Defense found that 80 percent of the waste handled by private waste transfer stations goes to four of the city’s 59 community board districts. Asthma rates skyrocketed in areas where the stations were concentrated, a health effect linked directly to the garbage truck traffic. It is critical that the SWMP integrates multi-model strategies to reduce environmental burdens in New York City.
We are also pleased that the SWMP adds a level of accountability for commercial waste management and seeks to explore alternative sources of energy – in this case natural gas – to move beyond its dependence on diesel fuels (even if it does not have an explicit plan to implement this vision). Such approaches should indeed be adopted in the SWMP.
However, the Solid Waste Management Plan is primarily an export plan which by definition would cause New York City to miss out on major economic development opportunities. NYC Apollo recently launched its Ten Point Plan for a Strong Economy and a Healthy City where Zero Waste was identified as a key component of a “green collar” job creation strategy. By reusing, remanufacturing, and recycling existing materials, a zero waste policy would spur a new green manufacturing sector and prime the pump for a generation of family sustaining jobs. The Community Service Society’s report that approximately 50 percent of African American men in New York City are unemployed underscores the need to develop a comprehensive job creation strategy and effective, targeted job training programs. It is unfortunate that the SWMP does not look to promote economic development in this manner, especially because the New York State Solid Waste Management Act requires that we promote sound alternatives to waste disposal.
Not only does zero waste create jobs it allows our city to remain competitive. Shipping trash to landfills outside of New York has become increasingly more expensive with the per-ton contract for shipping garbage now at $74, a 40 percent increase from the $54 per-ton cost in 1997. As demonstrated by the city’s contract with Visy Industries, reducing waste creates jobs and provides revenue. When Visy won a large city paper-recycling contract they built a recycling plant on Staten Island and now pay the city $7 a ton for paper which translates to $11 million in savings for New York City taxpayers. The efficacy of a zero waste policy and the potential for green collar jobs is also demonstrated by the recycling facility planned by Hugo Neu in Brooklyn which will be built at no cost to the city and will save an estimated $20 million annually. The plant has won the approval of community and environmental groups because it integrates smart agricultural design and will transport over 90 percent of the recyclable material by barge, which will limit congestion and pollution. Unfortunately, the Solid Waste Management Plan neither creates the framework nor promotes the establishment of an infrastructure to take these recycling, reusing, and remanufacturing markets to scale.
The revised SWMP must ensure that we analyze the cost-effectiveness of our current export strategy with a strategy that promotes Zero Waste. We need to think creatively about ways to promote new markets in New York City. Green Worker Cooperatives in Hunts Point, for instance, is trying to seize this opportunity by recycling and reusing appliances and other building products. We must adopt such an approach on a widespread level to ensure that we begin to create new markets by reusing the 700,000 tons of furniture, textiles, appliances, building materials and other “reusables” that cost the city over $50 million annually to discard.
Urban Agenda and NYC Apollo look forward to working with the City Council on shaping the SWMP. We urge you to ensure that the SWMP is more far-sighted, not export-based, and promotes economic development and environmental justice. We also look forward to working with you on implementing Intro 174, the Zero Waste resolution, and other legislation and demonstration programs that support zero waste as well as other initiatives that strengthen our city’s economy and health. From a labor perspective, recycling, reuse, and remanufacturing have the potential to create good jobs for city residents for generations to come. Equally critical, these new industries can help promote environmental justice and ease the environmental burdens that overwhelmingly impact our city’s low-income communities of color.