Brooklyn community celebrates waste equity bill
by Benjamin Fang
Aug 21, 2018 | 1506 views | 0 0 comments | 87 87 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Concepcion Bosque first arrived in the southside of Williamsburg at 11 years old.

A native of the Dominican Republic, she recalled that “no one wanted to be in” the north Brooklyn neighborhood decades ago.

Gang members lived in her building. Bosque’s father never allowed her to play outside because it was too dangerous. She said the streets she grew up walking never had trees, but were constantly filled with garbage and rats.

Williamsburg today looks entirely different than the community in which Bosque was raised. Crime rates have dropped, construction projects for new buildings are everywhere, and the streets are lined with greenery. But one problem remains in north Brooklyn.

“The streets are beautiful, the buildings are beautiful, but the garbage is still there,” Bosque said. “Why should garbage be our problem only?”

For decades, three regions in New York City –– north Brooklyn, the south Bronx and southeast Queens –– have been home to three-quarters of the city’s waste transfer stations. Just six percent of the city’s population, the majority of whom are low-income and communities of color, has lived near the facilities that process garbage.

For Bosque, who works at the child development center Nuestros Ninos, that means thousands of garbage trucks barreling down local streets.

“You can smell the exhaust, you can smell the trash,” she said. “You can’t escape it, it’s right there.”

To ease the trash burden for these three areas and its residents, and more fairly distribute the responsibility to other parts of New York City, the City Council passed waste equity legislation earlier this month.

The law reduces the amount of waste that can be processed in north Brooklyn by 50 percent, and in south Bronx and southeast Queens by 33 percent. The cuts take effect in October 2019, and will be complete by September 2020, according to Department of Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia.

Exceptions are carved out for transfer stations that recycle organic waste and export waste by rail or barge.

The legislation also prohibits the city from allowing new waste transfer stations to open in any community district that already handles 10 percent of the city’s garbage.

Last Thursday, Mayor Bill de Blasio joined local elected officials, environmental advocates, and community leaders to sign the bill at the Williamsburg Community Center. He said the law makes clear that every neighborhood has a responsibility to share the burden.

“We’re saying we no longer accept the notion that if you happen to be poor or you happen to have darker skin, that all the garbage goes to your neighborhood,” he said. “Those days have to end in this city.”

Garcia noted that each neighborhood will see roughly 150 fewer trucks and 60 fewer tractor trailers per day, which will make life easier for residents.

New transfer stations are also expected to open in the coming months, including the Southwest Brooklyn Marine Transfer Station in Bath Beach and the East 91st Street Marine Transfer Station on the Upper East Side.

Council Speaker Corey Johnson said the legislation took 12 years to pass, going through seven different versions under three speakers and two mayors. City lawmakers noted that the mayor committed to signing the bill a year ago, making their path easier.

Councilman Antonio Reynoso, who championed waste equity, said his predecessor, Diana Reyna, tried to pass the bill several times, but never reached a veto-proof majority of 34 votes. Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg had opposed the law and would have vetoed it, he said.

But when de Blasio indicated his support, Reynoso only needed 26 votes to pass the bill, which he knew would be signed.

During the celebration at the Williamsburg Community Center last week, Reynoso provided gifts to both de Blasio and Johnson for backing the legislation. He gave a Brooklyn Cupcake to the mayor and boxing gloves to Johnson to show that he’s a “fighter.”

The north Brooklyn councilman said the bill lessens the “toxic conditions” created by decades of heavy industrial uses, oil spills and fumes from garbage trucks.

“Our children breathe these fumes from birth,” Reynoso said. “Woodhull Hospital, which serves my district, has the highest rate of admissions for asthma of any hospital in the city.”

Eddie Bautista, executive director of the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance, said he’s been working on this issue since 1991. The passage of the waste equity bill shows that transformational change “takes a long time.”

“What this law today indicates is that there are no more disposable communities, no more disposable people,” he said.

The next battle for waste equity will be to create zoned collection for commercial waste, a fight that has just begun. But the ultimate goal for the city, de Blasio said, is to reduce the amount of garbage so everyone’s burden is lightened.

“This legislation marks a turning point but not an end of this fight,” he said. “This is an important step and there will be more in the future.”

Reynoso said the Williamsburg community knows it will continue to process a large percentage of the city’s trash for the foreseeable future. But with the signing of waste equity legislation, other neighborhoods will step up and do their part.

Prior to his remarks, he pointed out that his young son Alejandro was present at the bill-signing ceremony.

“A lot of these changes are not going to be for us, but for the future of our children,” he said. “That’s why we fight.”
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