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Urge Westchester County to Develop a Zero Waste Plan

The City of Peekskill, the host community, is an Environmental Justice community that has been severely and disproportionately impacted. For decades, Peekskill has been ground zero for the continuous hazardous air emissions and a legacy of pollution from this facility that is our county’s largest industrial air pollutant.

Organization Sign On:
Request to Hire Zero Waste Consultant for Comprehensive Westchester County Zero Waste Plan
Dear County Executive Latimer and Chairperson Pierce, We, the undersigned organizations from across Westchester County, join with Westchester Alliance for Sustainable Solutions (WASS) in requesting that Westchester County retain certified Zero Waste consultants to prepare comprehensive protocols and implementation plans to work toward robust Zero Waste goals as part of the critical transition away from trash incineration and in concert with steps for the closure of the Wheelabrator Westchester trash incinerator, the County’s end-of-cycle waste management disposal system. The City of Peekskill, the host community, is an Environmental Justice community that has been severely and disproportionately impacted. For decades, Peekskill has been ground zero for the continuous hazardous air emissions and a legacy of pollution from this facility that is our county’s largest industrial air pollutant. Westchester County needs to be prepared for the abrupt closure of the aging Wheelabrator Westchester trash incinerator. The incinerator is now 38 years old, one of the oldest in the nation. The average age of the 48 trash incinerators that have closed since 2000 was just 24. Rarely do incinerators make it past the age of 40. Privately-operated, but publicly-owned incinerators also tend not to be well maintained, as private companies like Covanta and Wheelabrator invest more in the plants they own, while deferring maintenance on publicly-owned facilities until things break down, becoming a capital expense to be covered by the county. It’s not unusual for older incinerators to close or break down, before their waste contracts expire. Wheelabrator’s 35-year old Portsmouth, Virginia incinerator is scheduled to close in January 2024, years before its waste contracts expire, simply because the plant will no longer be economically viable. Abrupt, unexpected closures of incinerators are not unusual. The Detroit incinerator closed for good with no notice in 2019, requiring the city and suburban municipal customers to redirect waste on a dime. The Covanta Fairfax trash incinerator in Virginia closed for 11 months in 2017 after a huge fire caused $40 million in damage, requiring the District of Columbia and Northern Virginia communities to make other plans for their waste. Before the Hartford, Connecticut incinerator closed for good this past summer, both of the plant’s generators failed at the same time a few years ago, causing trash to pile up illegally as the state struggled to make other plans. Before the county’s contract with Wheelabrator expires in late 2029, there’s a good chance the facility could become unavailable, perhaps without notice. Greenhouse gas emissions from trash incineration are roughly twice that of landfilling the same waste, no matter the transportation distance involved. CO2 emissions from trash incineration are about 65% worse than burning coal. Incineration does not replace landfills, but makes them more dangerous by filling them with toxic ash. For every 100 tons of waste burned, about 30 tons of toxic ash are produced and shipped to landfills – in our case, to an ash dump in Putnam, Connecticut. Researchers are also now warning that incinerators are contributing to plumes of airborne PFAS pollution and could be spreading PFAS significant distances contaminating water and soil. European researchers are finding alarming levels of PFAS downwind of incinerators. A recent study from Vermont found a downwind plume of PFAS dispersal that extended over roughly 125 square miles from a factory source. Zero Waste is defined as “the conservation of all resources by means of responsible production, consumption, reuse and recovery of products, packaging and materials without burning and with no discharges to land, water, or air that threaten the environment or human health.” A Zero Waste system is a cyclical, 21st century solution, the global choice for sustainable cities using a circular economy approach that involves redesigning our systems and resource use from product design to recovery to prevent wasteful, costly, polluting and climate damaging practices. Zero waste initiatives are flourishing worldwide with aggressive efforts to move away from incineration facilities. The Network of Zero Waste Municipalities in Europe has more than 350 active cities that are on the road to zero waste with some managing to divert more than 90% of their waste from landfills or incinerators. Villages, towns, and cities across the globe are making real progress toward the goal of zero waste. There are real cost savings through the implementation of zero waste strategies, especially those higher on the Zero Waste Hierarchy such as source reduction and reuse, but also composting of food scraps, which is a large portion of the waste stream for there is not universal curbside collection service. Diverting organic waste would save millions of dollars in tipping fees each year. In December 2021, the County Executive of suburban Montgomery County, Maryland directed his Department of Environmental Protection to prepare for closure of its county-owned incinerator within 12-18 months – three years before the end of their contract. The county has hired zero waste consultants to guide the county’s transition. Similarly, Delaware County, Pennsylvania has hired a zero waste consulting team to guide their transition away from burning the county’s trash in the nation’s largest trash incinerator, located in a small city within a suburban Philadelphia county – a textbook case of environmental racism similar to our county’s situation. Delaware County was specific in their RFP to call for a certified Zero Waste consultant to respond and to apply the internationally peer-reviewed definition of Zero Waste and the Zero Waste Hierarchy as guiding principles in their county solid waste plan. We urge you to take the actions necessary to ensure the hiring of consultants with the proper expertise in transitioning from incineration toward Zero Waste so that the county can follow the lead of other suburban counties working to gain from the jobs, health, economic, environmental and potential cost-saving benefits of such a transition. Sincerely, Municipal Governments/ Officials: Village of Ardsley Mayor Nancy Kaboolian Village of Ardsley Board of Trustees Gov't Agencies/ Organizations: Balaboste Bedford 2030 CCoHope Indivisible Cortlandt-Peekskill Anti-Racism Collaborative (CPARC) Croton100 CURE100 Energy Justice Law & Policy Center Energy Justice Network Federated Conservationists of Westchester County Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) Grassroots Environmental Education Hastings-on-Hudson Zero Waste Advisory Task Force Hudson River Sloop Clearwater Indian Point Safe Energy Coalition Indivisible Scarsdale Indivisible Westchester New York Interfaith Power & Light New York Solar Energy Society Northern Westchester Mothers Out Front Parish House Inc Peekskill Hispanic Community Corp. Peekskill Progressives Peekskill Walks Repair Cafe Hudson Valley Resist Spectra Rye Sustainability Committee Safe Energy Rights Group Sustainable Putnam United For Clean Energy WESPAC Foundation, Inc.

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