Open Letter to Legislative Chairman Alden Wolfe and the Rockland County Legislature from Finger Lakes Zero Waste Coalition, Inc.

Dear Mr. Wolfe,

We are writing to inform you of a webinar about waste reduction that will take place on April 14, 2016. <>.

The Finger Lakes region unfortunately contains the three largest active landfills in New York State. These landscape-altering monuments to waste are visible from miles away and on the all too frequent bad days the stench generated by these dumps is also detectable
from miles away. It is no coincidence that your county is at the top of our notification list about the webinar. You may not be aware of this, but your county sends more waste to the Ontario County dump than any other single entity, including sources in other counties, the
New England states and Canada. We have examined the records of this dump for the past four years and have also noted that the amount of your waste sent there has increased every year.

Your county deposited 224,810 tons in 2012 and 247,071 tons in 2013, an increase of 22,260 tons. In 2014, over 263,382 tons was deposited, comprising 41 percent of the total annual amount received that year. In 2015, you sent us 302,967 tons, a 40,000 ton increase, comprising over 46 percent of the total amount received. Although we are aware that you have worked on increasing your county’s recycling rate, it has not resulted in a decrease in your exported waste to our region.

We have explored your website, and your county looks very beautiful. You have much to be proud of. However, we wonder if you are fully aware of where your garbage goes and the environmental and economic burdens it places on the regions receiving it. When you send your waste “away,” it is easy to ignore. Aside from their aesthetic impacts, which affect our local economy, most notably our tourism industry, these dumps filled mostly with other people’s garbage are major sources of air and water pollution. They are the largest sources of air pollution in our region.

The Ontario County Landfill and its Landfill Gas to Energy plant generate 44 tons of volatile organic compounds, 84 tons of sulfur dioxide, 123 tons of nitrous oxides, 358 tons of carbon monoxide, 113 tons of non-methane organic compounds and 28 tons of hazardous air pollutants per year. It also generates over 19 million gallons of toxic leachate per year. This leachate is minimally treated in wastewater treatment plants that discharge into the Finger Lakes and Lake Ontario. As you are undoubtedly aware, the availability of uncontaminated drinking water is a growing national concern and the Great Lakes watershed is the largest source of fresh surface water in the world. When you think of it in this context, it is crazy that we deal with our waste materials in the manner we do now. We are certain that some of the people in your county would be dismayed at the suffering that their waste creates for others.

Several citizen groups concerned about the environmental and economic impacts of these dumps have increased their memberships recently upon learning that New York City is negotiating a 20-year contract to export its garbage to our region by rail. Many of us fear that if this is allowed to go through that there will be no end in sight. The Finger Lakes region will become the de facto sacrifice zone for the state’s garbage if New York City and other counties like yours do not adopt serious programs to reduce their waste generation and exportation.

Finger Lakes Zero Waste Coalition has been at the forefront of waste reduction in our region for the past nine years. While we have made progress on some issues, we have been unsuccessful in preventing recurring dump expansions and continual importation of waste
to our region. For the above reasons, and because the Department of Environmental Conservation is ineffectual in enacting statewide waste reduction programs, we have decided to go straight to the sources of the waste coming to our region, and ask for your help.

While we will be contacting many other counties in New York State to consider this issue, your county has the greatest potential to reduce the flow of waste to the Ontario County dump. We ask that you consider registering for the webinar as a first step to developing an action plan to reduce your waste. We also hope that you will discuss this problem with your legislators and ask them to exert pressure on the Governor’s Office to allocate sufficient resources to the DEC specifically to enable the agency to implement an enforceable waste reduction program, as opposed to its current aspirational “Beyond Waste” policy statement.

The status quo is clearly unsustainable from both economic and environmental perspectives.

We would like to think that someday in our lifetimes we can enjoy a reduction of air pollution, water pollution and odor that has impacted the lakes, wineries and organic food brands that so many people have worked so hard to develop in the Finger Lakes region. For
this to be realized we ask for your help.

Thank you for considering our concerns. If there is anything that we can do to assist you, please do not hesitate to contact our organization.

Douglas C. Knipple, Ph. D.
President, Finger Lakes Zero Waste Coalition, Inc.

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