Most food waste is dumped in landfills instead of being recycled, but an abandoned landfill is being renovated.
There are many pleasant stories circulating about the return of wildlife and the healing of nature as humans take a break from our activity. However, this slowdown is not good news for the environment. New York City, for example, has suspended its organic recycling program. That means that tens of thousands of tons of garbage that last year would have been recycled this year will find its way to a landfill.
Not that many people in New York City notice that the show has been suspended. Only half of the city's neighborhoods have brown containers on the sidewalk. And only about 10 percent of those with the containers participate at all. Still, that adds up to 50,000 tons of recycled organic material each year, enough to fill nearly 4,000 garbage trucks.
When food scraps and other organic materials break down, they produce methane, which if released can be destructive to the atmosphere, but when captured in a controlled recycling program can be used as an alternative energy. Recycling organic matter locally also means that all those tons of trash don't need to be trucked out of state as far away as South Carolina. In addition, there is the physical by-product of fertilizer, which can be sold on the market or used in community gardens.
Until recently, he was part of that small group of New Yorkers who recycled their food scraps. And I did it so diligently. Every banana peel, every apple core, every Wednesday went down to the sidewalk and sanitation workers dragged it away to become fertilizer or biogas, something more than just more landfill. My contribution was probably only five pounds a week. But it felt good to know that I was reducing my impact in this small but steady way.
Now those tens of thousands of tons of garbage will be transported by diesel trucks to sit and emit methane in a landfill. It feels like an unforced error, as if we are making mistakes that we have already begun to correct. Whatever it's called, it is definitely a step back in our fight against climate change.
The old New York City landfill, once the largest in the world, is the best setting for what can happen to millions of tons of trash. Freshkills Park, when it opens in 2035, will cover 2,200 acres, about three times the size of Central Park. It's being designed by James Corner Field Operations, the same company that designed the High Line in Manhattan. It is not the first landfill project to park, but it is the largest.
"It's probably best to think of it as a national park," says Cait Field, manager of research and science development at Freshkills Park. “There will be a trailhead and a visitor center. The idea is that you really wouldn't visit the entire park in one day. "
Freshkills Park was originally the Fresh Kills Landfill. It was opened in 1948 by the controversial parks commissioner Robert Moses. He only intended to receive garbage from the city for three years, instead he took the garbage away for more than half a century. At its peak, that added up to nearly 30,000 tons of trash per day.
In 1970, a former sanitation commissioner named Samuel Kearing wrote about a site visit inthe magazineNew York: “It had a certain nightmare quality… Fresh Kills had been for thousands of years a magnificent, abundant and literally life-enhancing tidal swamp. And in just 25 years, it disappeared, buried under millions of tons of New York City trash. "
In 2001, the landfill was finally closed. Although the work had really just begun. As Field says: “Trash doesn't go away. You can't take it anywhere. They are millions and millions of tons ”.
So instead, they limited it. There is a waterproof liner that keeps all the trash and methane in place. Then there are a few layers of dirt, each with different consistencies for different purposes. There is a gas vent layer and a drainage collection layer. Everything is quite complex underneath, even if it just looks like a grassy hill.
As for methane, the park has hundreds of wells throughout the site to capture the gas. It's enough to power 20,000 homes on Staten Island. It also means that garbage-covered mountains are technically deflated, albeit only a little and very slowly.
Trees are tough in Freshkills Park because their roots can't reach that far before hitting the cap layer. Therefore, the park is primarily grassland that has shallower roots and also allows staff to easily access wellheads and other infrastructure.
This is good news for the grasshopper sparrow. These birds are of conservation concern in New York State, in part because their preferred habitat, tall grasslands, are so rare in the Northeast. Today, the largest crew of grasshopper sparrows in New York State call this former landfill home. Like the osprey, foxes, coyotes, deer and much more.
I have been to Freshkills Park twice. It's nice. Standing there, you can't help but wonder if New York City got lucky. This could have ended very differently for those mountains of garbage. Yes, it will take another 15 years before the park opens. However, we are fortunate that it worked so well for Freshkills and New York City. Standing there, you realize why every banana peel and apple core really should be recycled.
Ideally, the organic recycling program is recreated in New York City in no time. If not, we hope there is another equally brilliant plan for all the new junk coming soon.