Environment

Beyond the Garbage Pail — Mapping Trash in New York City

Garbage bags awaiting pick-up on Eighth Avenue in Manhattan.

Garbage bags awaiting pick-up on Eighth Avenue in Manhattan.

New York City produces approximately 14 million tons of solid waste every year, and how we transport and process that waste deserves a close look. Photo by Nicholas Wells.

When your trash is picked up, where does it go? Most people don’t give their garbage a second thought, but how New York City collects and processes its garbage is a thorny political and public health issue. Department of Sanitation trucks collect refuse from curbside drop-off and municipal garbage cans daily, and deposit the waste at transfer stations throughout the city. The waste is stored until it can be transported out of town—by train or by boat—to landfills or waste processing sites.

Currently, the Bloomberg administration’s plan for each borough to collect and dispose of its own garbage has drawn the ire of residents. Most recently, some Upper East Siders are protesting a new marine transfer station slated for construction in 2015 at East 91st Street.

Environmental justice groups, however, say a disproportionate number of waste transfer stations are clustered in low-income neighborhoods such as Mott Haven, Port Morris, and East Williamsburg, and argue that the increased truck traffic in these areas causes air pollution and high rates of asthma among residents in these neighborhoods. Marine transfer stations are considered more environmentally friendly because they cut the number of garbage trucks. Still, residents argue that the smell of garbage is too much to bear.

Where Garbage Travels

By visualizing the transfer of garbage throughout the city via waste transfer stations and legal trucking routes, we can see where waste comes from, where it goes and who is most affected. Check the boxes below the map to explore the amount of refuse collected by neighborhood, the trucking routes, and the locations of waste transfer stations throughout New York City.

Asthma Rates Near Waste Transfer Stations

One potential impact of large clusters of waste transfer stations in residential areas is increased asthma rates among residents living nearby. There are numerous other factors that can cause asthma, but activists argue that the diesel fuel from garbage truck traffic cause air pollution near waste transfer stations.

Low-Income Neighborhoods Deal with More Waste

East Williamsburg and the South Bronx are two low-income neighborhoods that are disproportionately impacted by a high concentration of waste transfer stations.

Looking Ahead

As it stands, a few communities are dealing with the brunt of the city’s waste. And as New Yorkers continue to debate the locations of waste-transfer stations throughout the city, arguments for environmental equity are sure to play a large part in the conversation.

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