Awash in Trash: New York's capacity for garbage disposal outpaces its need
In 1998 New York landfilled less than five million tons of solid waste in sanitary landfills. In 1999 that amount increased to 5.58 million tons. Cattaraugus County's recycling rate exceeded 50 percent in 1999, requiring the county to landfill less than half it's 52,000 ton annual waste stream. Yet NYSDEC is reviewing proposals to construct new landfills that would add another 37 million tons of disposal capacity in New York.
NYSDEC produces an annual report on "Capacity Data for Landfills and Waste to Energy Facilities" including proposals that were made to add or expand landfills. Over time the reports have some predictive value. The reports for the years 1998 to 2002 are posted on our Archive site, also available from links at the bottom of this page. Here's an analysis of the data:
Current DEC data show that over 41 million tons of permitted disposal capacity existed in just six commercial landfills at the end of 2002. In 2003, about four million tons was dumped at these six landfills, but eight million tons of new capacity was added to Waste Management's High Acres Landfill in Monroe County, and four million removed by the closure of the Al Turi Landfill in Orange County.
As they've done for the last five years, these six commercial landfills proved unable to find enough waste to reach their annual permitted disposal rates, leaving over a million tons of space unused at the end of the year. These landfills have consistently left about one million tons of annual permitted capacity unused for at least five years.
Except for the proposals in Farmersville (recently scaled back from 915,000 tpy to 650,000 tpy), Albion, and Ava, most new capacity proposed 1999 was approved by 2002. These three proposals would add over 37 million tons of disposal capacity. Without them New York has about 12 years of permitted capacity (about the same as Pennsylvania).
NEW YORK'S COMMERCIAL LANDFILLS
as of December 31, 2002
active facilities: 6
permitted capacity: 41 million tons
capacity added in 2003: 8 million tons
98 percent of New York's commercial landfill capacity is located in NYSDEC Regions 8 and 9, in western New York. You can find these on our landfill map, with links to further information on each facility.
Now let's turn to publicly-owned waste disposal facilities. New York's 21 publicly-owned landfills have increased their capacity from 37.8 millions tons in 2000, to over 52 million tons of permitted disposal capacity today.
In many cases these are really privately operated regional landfills owned by counties or public authorities who use the landfill to generate a profit. For example, Casella Waste Systems operates the Schuyler Falls landfill in Clinton Co. In 2000, Casella obtained a permit modification increasing the landfill's permitted capacity from 734 thousand tons last year to over 2 million tons.
Other landfill expansions have been permitted recently at Broome County's landfill, Jefferson County's landfill, Delaware County's landfill, and Chautauqua County's Ellery Landfill.
However, these landfills are generally smaller size than commercial landfills, and they leave unused only one-third of the permitted disposal space commercial fail to fill each year.
New York's ten incinerators, all but one publicly owned, took in 11 million tons in 2002. Incineration rates do not change much in New York.
THE BOTTOM LINE
From 1998 to the present, permitted capacity has steadily grown, keeping ahead of the disposal rate so much as to leave over one million tons of permitted capacity unused every year. This is a far cry from 1995 when the federal Second Circuit court said (in SSC Corp. v. Town of Smithtown, NY) "landfills have reached the bursting point."
It seems certain the steady substantial growth in landfill space in New York will undermine the market for recycled goods and financial incentives for source reduction and in-process recycling. The growth in landfill space is making disposal rates decline and providing incentives for trucking garbage longer distances to unused (and cheap) landfill capacity.
Today there is at least 97 million tons of permitted landfill space in New York.
Worth noting is what's left out of this account: over 81 construction and demolition landfills and over a third of a million tons of sewage sludge dumped annually (from treatment facilities processing permitted toxic discharges from industrial facilities, as well as household sewage)--about half landfilled or incinerated, the other half spread on farmland. Only about five million tons of New York's municipal waste stream is recycled.
This helps account for discrepancies in officially reported recycling rates: the state-wide recycling rate in 1999 was either 23.5% (Legislative Commission on Solid Waste annual "Where Will the Garbage Go? 1999"), 36% (U.S. EPA) or 42% (NYSDEC's reported rate for 1997). Unlike the EPA or the Solid Waste Commission, NYSDEC counts beverage containers recycled by consumers to get back the bottle deposit charged at the point of purchase, and it counts scrap materials exported from the state and slightly toxic sewage sludge dumped on farmland under the Department's "beneficial use" program. (Waste Age, 4/1/2000)
New York produces over 22 million tons of solid waste annually