In 2013 humans in municipal areas within the US generated just over 254 million tons of solid waste. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, that works out to the creation of a little less than four and a half pounds of garbage per person, daily. Only about 34% of that mess—about 87 million tons of disposable materials ranging from batteries to tires to yard trimmings—is recycled. The rest of what is thrown away goes to landfills throughout the country. And though the number of landfills has dramatically decreased in the past 25 years, today's garbage storage facilities are larger and able to pack more detritus in per acre than their dirty predecessors.
With all that unwanted material (of which about 30 percent is composed of paper and another 30 percent made from yard trimmings and food scraps) it seems logical that there would be a concerted, unified effort among humans to manage the transport and storage of the waste they themselves produce abundantly.
But divisions in values, neighborhood development priorities and economic circumstances make the manifestation of such necessarily hygienic and sometimes even profitable processes fraught with controversy. Case in point: the developing debacle concerning the Edith Transfer Station.
Although the City of Albuquerque Environmental Planning Commission approved a zone change and site development plan for the project to consolidate Albuquerque's solid waste for transfer, management, transportation and storage, opponents of the high-tech, high-volume garbage center are many—and they're vociferous, even as the proposal comes before the City Council next week for further consideration and a request by the city's land use hearing officer that the plans be remanded back to the EPC to address significant deficiencies. The problems were revealed and addressed by Peggy Norton of the North Valley Coalition during a zone change appeal hearing held on Jan. 29. This situation sets up a veritable show down at the next council session on March 7, when local residents, convinced of the plan's problematic nature will confront city officials seriously bent toward finding economically substantive solutions to Burque's always growing garbage situation.
The arguments against the new waste transfer station being located at the corner of Edith and Comanche can be summed up thus: the station will be noisy, dangerous, unhealthy for area residents and has the potential to negatively impact surrounding property values. Also, residents like Jill Gatwood, are concerned, writing to editors at the local daily that, “Waste treatment, storage, disposal and transfer facilities are more likely to be built in working-class communities that are expected to have fewer resources and less political clout.”
Contrariwise, city officials believe the new transfer station will provide sustainable improvements to the city's solid waste issues. Especially compelling is the argument that the new transfer facility—where garbage generated by a majority of Albuquerque's citizens will be transferred from collection trucks to 18-wheelers indoors in a facility equipped with air filters and misters designed to ameliorate the unpleasant realities of human garbage—will significantly reduce the city of Albuquerque's carbon footprint and save the city up to $75 million over the next 20 years.
Despite the outcome of this latest municipal grunge-fest, the garbage isn't going anywhere soon. We own it and the consequences of participating in a consumer society that treasures disposability will continue to haunt this city no matter where we decide to put the rubbish bin.
The Albuquerque City Council will take up the matter of the Edith Transfer Station—including a request to send the proposal for its implementation back to the City of Albuquerque Environmental Plannng Commission—at its next regular meeting on March 7, 2016, at 5pm.