After a long night of celebrating WASTECON 2015's kick-off, attendees arrived to the conference on Tuesday ready for a jam-packed day of activity. Despite a number of interesting sessions, the most anticipated was the "Mega Session" featuring NYC Department of Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia, who traveled to WASTECON to discuss the challenges of reaching zero waste in America's biggest city.
Zero waste is a (distant) possibility in NYC
"New York City is the largest municipal sanitation department, probably in the world, definitely in the country," said Commissioner Garcia as she began her presentation. This came as no surprise to the audience, which consisted of a few hundred of the industry's most influential leaders. However, Garcia's speech had only just begun to pry into the overwhelming magnitude of trash that is collected and transferred throughout the city.
During her presentation, Commissioner Garcia threw these numbers at the audience:
- The city is moving 10,500 tons of refuse a day, and around 2,000 tons of recyclables
- The mandatory recycling program collected 564,000 tons of material just last year
- About 2,000 rear-loader trucks navigate NYC to collect trash
- NYC operates 4 marine transfer stations and 1 rail transfer station
- By exporting trash via rail, the city has taken 60,000 miles of long haul trucking off the road
- NYC's organic waste pilot-program is serving 144,600 households and collected more than 11,000 tons of organic waste in 2014
- The city has 225 community composting sites and 64 food waste drop-off sites
- As of last month, e-cycleNYC serves more than 1,000,000 New Yorkers
Reaching a zero-waste goal in NYC is a task with unique complications. First, its geographical set-up creates challenges for transferring waste. "NYC is a city of islands," Garcia said. "As many of you know, moving anything in or out of a series of islands is logistically incredibly complicated." Therefore, the city has adjusted the ways that it transfers materials, such as shifting from truck exportation to rail.
Communication is another obstacle that the city must tackle when trying to educate residents about waste disposal. "We're talking about a city where, when I do almost anything I've got to translate it into at least seven languages, with an immigrant community that is always changing," said Garcia.
Space limitation is an issue that comes with operating waste in a vertical city. "People live in very tight spaces. Having a kitchen that's big enough for a counter is sometimes a perk, let alone places for different colored bins to make it easy to recycle," Garcia said. The city is working with vendors to implement single-stream recycling, which could increase NYC's diversion rate by about 20%.
Despite challenges, there are many positives results to changing technologies and programs that are being implemented in New York City. "Tonnage on waste is coming down, at the same time that NYC has seen our population increase," said Garcia. By implementing waste disposal initiatives — such as the e-cycle program, an organic waste pilot program, re-fashioNYC, and "save-as-you-throw" programs that would incentivize waste disposal — NYC is making a huge push to be a leader in sustainability and innovation.
"We think that together, these initiatives put New York City on the road toward zero waste, toward really having us think about it completely differently than we ever had before," Garcia said.
Other highlights from day two include...
SWANA WASTECON Awards Ceremony
SWANA recognized leaders at breakfast on Tuesday morning as a way of thanking them for their service to the waste and recycling industry. Among the many distributed:
- Life Member Awards: John Skinner, retired executive director/CEO of SWANA; and Robert Hauser, Jr., retired solid waste director of Pinellas County, FL
- Distinguished Service Award: David Ross, retired senior vice president of SCS Engineers
- Largest Increase in Membership: SWANA Florida Sunshine Chapter
- Largest Percentage Increase in Membership: SWANA Kentucky Bluegrass Chapter
- SWANA Certification Champions: Robert Perron, president of Guahan Waste Control, Inc.; and Craig Jorgensen, operations manager of Trans-Jordan Cities
- Commitment to Service Faculty Award: Michael Tilley of Orangevale, CA
- Online Faculty of the Year Award: Morgan Thomas of Marshall County, TN
- Outstanding Faculty of the Year Award: Risa Weinberger of Risa Weinberger & Associates
- Tenured Faculty of the Year Award: Nowland "Skip" Bambard of AECOM
On Tuesday morning, WASTECON held its first of many safety summits, which focused on roadside inspection of vehicles. The summit led attendees through the exhibit hall, where Florida Highway Patrol Trooper Kevin Nelms explained the steps that go into inspecting a waste and recycling truck and provided a closer look at the problematic aspects of industry trucks.
Representatives with Hines Specialty Vehicle Group, DaDee Manufacturing, and MAC Trailers were able to showcase the newer truck designs. Features such as bigger windows and low-maintenance collection barrels are allowing haulers to collect refuse more safely and efficiently.
In the afternoon, Deb Frye, the national technical director of solid waste facilities for HDR, Inc., led a second safety summit which explored what waste leaders can learn from other industries regarding safety.
Topics ranging from landfill gas regulations to the pros and cons of various waste-to-energy methods, even alternative waste disposal systems, such as automated vacuum waste collection, were presented. Bruce Clark, a project director at SCS Engineers, delivered insight on the AVAC method, which can better serve congested urban areas across the United States. Clark explained how the underground system — perfect for communities with dense populations, crowded streets, and air quality issues — can create a more efficient system of waste collection.