The Western New York Environmental Alliance is an umbrella group that is committed to the preservation and restoration of our regional environment. The work of the Alliance takes place in Working Groups focused on environmental topics.
To get involved with hazardous waste and pollution prevention issues in Western New York, read on to learn more, join the Working Group listserv, and come to a meeting.
- Cleaning up toxic and hazardous waste;
- Improving recycling; and
- Protecting water quality and quantity.
In 2013, all Hazardous Waste & Pollution Prevention Working Group Meetings will be hosted at the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo at Larkin Exchange, 726 Exchange St., Suite 525 in Buffalo, NY. Check the GrowWNY calendar to find all WNYEA Working Group Meetings.
Working Group Chair
Judy Einach, Coalition for West Valley Nuclear Wastes / NY Sustainable Agriculture Working Group
OUR WESTERN NEW YORK HERITAGE
Our region has a history of toxic and hazardous waste sites which have had tragic impacts on community members and Western New York families. Love Canal is one of those sites, and is seen by many as one of the most tragic environmental catastrophes in American History.
The disaster that is Love Canal was responsible for sparking a revolution in local citizen activism leading to the development of Superfund legislation and forever changing public perception about the serious threat that hazardous chemicals pose to human health, safety, and welfare.
Over three decades have passed since the Love Canal events took place, but unfortunately, we are still plagued by hazardous waste. To really address hazardous waste and pollution, we need to cleanup current waste sites, keep the production of hazardous waste out of our region, and reduce the amount of waste that we as community members produce.
WASTE & POLLUTION TODAY
The issue of waste can be complex and begins with manufacturing. A laptop or a tee-shirt is not the only thing that is created when that item is produced at a manufacturing company. The process of creating something produces by-products in the form of organic waste or solid waste. Depending on the company, those by-products can end up as hazardous waste or pollution.
Then, when we are done using something, we often toss it in the garbage. That garbage ends up with everyone else’s garbage, in a landfill.
Statistics tell us:
-Each person creates 4.7 pounds of waste every single day
-54% of solid waste makes its way into landfills
-One ton of recycled paper can save the energy equivalent of 185 gallons of gasoline
*Source U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
TYPES OF WASTE IN WESTERN NEW YORK
Municipal Solid Waste
This waste is comprised predominantly of household waste, but sometimes includes commercial waste as well. Traditionally this waste would end up in a landfill where it would sit decomposing for possibly hundreds of years. This takes up space and can cause pollution as methane and other gasses are formed by decomposing rubbish. With a little thought, a lot of waste can be handled without needing a landfill.
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation details many new programs in the 2010 Solid Waste Management Plan. The Plan aims to reduce the amount of Municipal Solid Waste disposed of by 15% every two years. This aggressive plan requires working with manufactures to modify product packaging and the addition of reuse and recycling infrastructure throughout the state. The plan seeks to increase reuse, recycling, composting, and other organic recycling methods.
Food and Organics
Food and organic material can easily be composted. Composting allows natural materials to decay, leaving behind nutrient-enriched soil that is great for gardening. More and more individuals are composting on their own and using the results in their own gardens. Entire neighborhoods can also compost and reap the reward by discussing the issue and setting aside space where multiple households can bring their organic waste. Permits are required to do this. Check the Department of Environmental Conservation’s website for more information.
It is important for a compost pile to remain moist in order to be effective. In addition, oxygen is needed for the decomposition, so be sure to turn your compost pile regularly for best results. There are also many tools that can be purchased to assist in this. The Cornell Waste Management Institute’s website contains more composting information and tips.
Traditional recycling programs are a great way to divert materials from the landfill. Many materials that can be recycled, such as plastics and metals, take 50-100 years to break down in a landfill. This means that by recycling, you are saving landfill space for a long period of time. Not only this -- recycled materials are commonly used by commercial industries to make plastic bottles, newspapers, French-fry containers and more. Each item recycled means that fewer natural resources need to be consumed to make products in the future.
Items that can be placed in bins for curbside recycling include plastics, papers, and metals. For region specific information, including what can and cannot be recycled, check with your local municipality.
Construction and Demolition -- Building Materials
Building materials are created as a waste both in the construction and in the demolition process. While most metals are saved for their value, many other materials find their ways to landfills. When starting a new construction or demolition project, be sure to keep in mind the waste generated. Everything from doors to hinges to chandeliers can be recycled so that it does not end up in a landfill.
Buffalo ReUse is an organization that specializes in building material re-use in the Western New York region. Buffalo ReUse focuses on tackling deconstruction and re-use in a way that provides both jobs and educational opportunities. ReUse’s volunteers tackle deconstruction tasks, while Western New Yorkers can come and purchase quality, recycled building supplies at a reasonably low cost.
Our region has a history of toxic and hazardous waste sites--Love Canal being the most famous. In the late 1970s, Niagara County residents near 99th street began to realize that their children were very sick and suffered from an unexplainable number of birth defects. In time, it was uncovered that a toxic waste site located under a nearby school was the cause of contamination, resulting in what is seen by many as one of the most tragic environmental catastrophes in American History.
Over three decades later, there are still many sites that continue to pose a risk to our community including the former Bethlehem Steel plant along Buffalo’s waterfront, CWM Chemical Services in Lewiston, FMC Middleport Facility in Middleport and the West Valley nuclear site in Ashford.
Clean-up of these hazardous waste sites will require a regionalized effort to:
- Protect the public from exposure to hazardous chemicals
- Demand removal and or remediation of current waste
- Prevent further disposal of waste in this region
HOW CAN I MAKE A DIFFERENCE?
Make Personal Changes
Successful efforts to create less waste are dependent upon the participation of everyday people; to truly cleanup the environment we need to improve our daily habits and expand this effort to all aspects of our lives; home, work and play. The following techniques can help you to do just this.
Reduce Your Waste
It is simple to reduce waste. Decisions that create waste happen often in our day-to-day lives, and many times we do not even think of them. When buying products for your family, consider which have the least packaging. Even simple decisions such as not using a straw when you go out to eat seem small, but over time, can add up. Make it a game in your family to see who can create the least waste!
Another option to help reduce waste is Pay As You Throw. Pay As You Throw, encouraged in the state’s draft solid waste management plan, charges residents per volume of trash discarded and keeps recycling “free.” In this scheme, instead of paying for trash collection with your taxes, you only pay for what you actually throw out. This is similar to how we currently only pay for the electricity, gas and other utilities that we actually use. Those who reduce their waste save money! Let your community know that you support such a scheme, and help your entire neighborhood think about reducing waste.
Reuse Old Materials
There are many creative ways to reuse old materials and prevent them from entering the landfill. From home-made jewelry to patches for clothing, the possibilities are endless, and fun! Re-use doesn’t need to be in your own home either. Organizations such as the Salvation Army are a great way to allow others to re-use products that you no longer need.
Step 1: Know the Issues
Undoubtedly there are more items that can be recycled than most people are aware of and as entrepreneurs devise new technologies and systems to advance the demand for recycling there is a continued need to remain well versed on proper procedures. Therefore, have a good grasp as to what you can and cannot recycle by obtaining your local municipalities recycling menu. For items that are non-recyclable, try to find a reuse for them before discarding them in a landfill - after all, one person’s garbage is another person’s treasure.
Step 2: Get Involved
Help promote recycling - it begins in your home. Educate your children on the importance of recycling and incorporate it into a game that is as environmentally rewarding as it is fun. Take advantage of your access to groups of individuals such as local neighborhood organizations, block groups and churches, it is a great way to reach out to people in an efficient manner. Finally, join groups concerned with this issue advocating for reform both locally and nationally, it will take a joint effort in order to instill widespread change.
Step 3: Encourage Others
Sometimes the best way to instill change is to incentivize users. Advocate local government to pass legislation offering reduced waste handling fees for increased recycling. This could be linked to a campaign focused on improving recycling awareness and gather pledges from individuals holding ourselves financially accountable for each of our actions.
Another method to spur additional recycling in our community is to develop report cards highlighting each municipality’s performance, bringing a sense of pride to overachieving neighborhoods and accountability to underachieving.
Recycling doesn’t have to stop there, municipal funding should be increased to expand recycling programs to include composting and possible material reuse programs. As individuals become more accustomed to recycling, composting and reuse, the demand for these services will naturally increase, placing additional pressure on government entities to offer these services.
Away from home, make it known to your employer that you value green practices, in particular recycling, because it contributes to a more sustainable work environment. Post signs on why recycling is important and provide tips to your co-workers on recycling best practices.
REFERENCES & FURTHER READING:
- Beyond Waste: A Sustainable Material Management Strategy - NYS Department of Environmental Conservation
- Buffalo ReUse, Inc.
- Composting - Cornell Waste Management Institute
- Comprehensive Revisions and Enhancements to Title 6 NYCRR Part 360 Regulations - NYS Department of Environmental Conservation
- C W M Chemical Services, LLC - US Environmental Protection Agency
- FMC Middleport Facility - NYS Department of Environmental Conservation
- Former Bethlehem Steel Site - NYS Department of Environmental Conservation
- Pay As You Throw: Conservation Tool - US Environmental Protection Agency
- Recycling Places in Buffalo - Catholic Care for Creation Committee of Buffalo
- Recycling Saves Money! - Value Stock Guide
- Saving Money & the Environment: A Kid's Guide to Recycling
- Thirty Years from Love Canal: August 2008 - UB Regional Institute
- West Valley Demonstration Project - US Department of Energy
- Local NYSDEC-permitted Household Hazard Waste Site - Hazman