- Pope Francis' visit to Washington, D.C. brought attention to his feelings about the modern world's "throwaway culture." And residents of the city's Brentwood section feel like they are the city's dumping ground. Since 1988, the community — which is 93% African American and has 18% unemployment — has battled a trash transfer station, one of three nearby, that handles tens of thousands of garbage annually. In the 1980s, the private trash business was attracted to the area's vacant, cheap, industrial land. At the three stations, garbage trucks dump waste for consolidation in larger tractor-trailers, then sends it to a waste-to-energy incinerator and landfills in neighboring Virginia.
- Most of the trash comes from other states, such as Virginia and Delaware. Brentwood residents complain of unbearable odors, though Andy Moss of Progressive Waste Solutions, which operates the transfer station, says the company uses technology designed to prevent odors.
- Washington's recycling rate is only 23%, below what the Environmental Protection Agency says is the national rate of 34.5%. Mike Ewall, director of the nonprofit Energy Justice Network, thinks the city should do more to manage and eliminate waste so the transfer stations won't be needed.
"These residents are dealing with some of the most pressing environmental justice issues in the District of Columbia,” Kenyan McDuffie, who represents Brentwood on the city council, told National Geographic.
Some Brentwood residents expressed a desire for the pope to somehow fix the issue during his recent trip to D.C., however it will take more effort to achieve justice for the residents of Brentwood. One suggested solution would be for D.C. to reduce the amount of trash accepted from outside municipalities. Last month, Sen. Bob Casey, D-PA, introduced the Trash Reduction and Sensible Handling (TRASH) Act of 2015 to restrict the flow of out-of state waste into Pennsylvania. The legislation gives all states more control over importing trash, and would allow higher fees on out-of-state waste.
Unfortunately, the Brentwood residents are not the only low-income community to be subjected to the burdens of trash transfer stations and landfills. In Alabama, Uniontown citizens filed a civil rights complaint, which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency agreed to investigate last year, centering on the Alabama Department of Environmental Management's approval of the landfill's operation permits in 2011 and an expansion of the facility in 2012.
In Tallassee, AL, the EPA agreed to investigate a civil rights complaint surrounding the permitting of the Stone's Throw Landfill, and has been sued for alleged lack of action.