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This is testimony by Brady Russell, Eastern PA Director, on two waste management contracts currently before the Philadelphia City Council. If you are from Philadelphia, please urge the City Council to vote no on both bills. Clean Water Action is here today urging Council to either vote NO on bill number 120393 and 120394 or to urge them to delay the bill by two months. The process by which the Administration came to these contracts is troubling and suggests that there are reasons why the Administration did not want a full and appropriate review by the environmentalists on the Administration’s Solid Waste Advisory Committee. Yesterday, the Streets Department convened a meeting with a few environmental groups focused primarily on the Waste Management contract. Several questions remain unanswered. Troubling notes about these two contracts:
  1. The contracts were never reviewed by the Solid Waste Advisory Committee. Clean Water Action sits on that committee. It wasn’t discussed. The details of this contract have been nailed down, apparently, since March. That would have been a much more appropriate time to let the SWAC review the deal. The fact that it wasn’t is telling. The administration picked its own group to review it, which is just strange. If they wanted specific efforts to take part, why didn’t they simply invite them to a SWAC meeting.
  2. Before this presentation, Clean Water Action had failed to note what a high priority the City places on incineration. From a “green” perspective, incineration (or what the industry likes to refer to as “waste-to-energy,” though burning trash is burning trash) is only greener than landfills if the green you are talking about is money. It does cost less but in terms of global warming it does more harm, on balance.
  3. We have criticized the administration for not pursuing an organic waste composting option, like some major cities have. We were told yesterday that no one submitted an RFP for composting. This is no surprise. The RFP was only for managing trash once it reached the sorting facilities. In order for composting to work, the City would need to commit to collecting organics or seek an RFP for compost collection. They didn’t, so of course they didn’t get such an RFP.
  4. Under this plan, Covanta’s trash will primarily be incinerated. We never support incineration and any vote for such a contract will always meet with Clean Water Action’s disapproval.
  5. Under this plan, approximately 25% of Waste Management’s waste stream has an uncertain future. The company has claimed that it will try to compost organics that are sorted out, but there is no guarantee that they will take those organics to their Delaware facility. Other waste that does not fit the profile of their SpecFuel needs will be incinerated. In other words, ultimately, as much as 75% of the Waste Management waste stream will be burned.
  6. We don’t know where Waste Management’s SpecFuel is going. In some cases, an old coal plant can have worse air pollution controls than a new incinerator, which may mean that the pollution profile of burnt SpecFuel turns out to worse than if it had been traditionally incinerated.
  7. We do know that the SpecFuel’s target market is largely coal burning utilities (and cement kilns, which we also aren’t fond of). In other words, by getting into the business of SpecFuel, Philadelphia is now in the business of sustaining the Coal Burning Power Industry by helping it to meet its regulatory pollution targets; thereby sustaining an industry that environmentalists believe should have died out by now. Approximately 60,000 people die every from pollution from coal burning power plants, yet we keep feeding them our dollars and our fuel.
  8. We have not seen the comparisons of Green House Gas emissions from SpecFuel facilities to Landfills with Methane Recovery. We need to see those comparisons inenough detail that independent experts could evaluate the data.
  9. Waste Management is also likely to use waste from its commercial contracts in Philadelphia in making SpecFuel.
We don’t know how many of Waste Management’s contracts incentize recycling, but we do know that if Waste Management has a way to make money on trash that dampens their motivation to encourage their clients to sort their recycling from their trash. The waste hauler is the single most powerful agent for getting a commercial building to recycle, and they aren’t doing it right now. The SpecFuel facility will dampen Waste Management’s motivation to try harder. In summary, there is much too much that we don’t understand. Since the Administration made the decision to bypass environmentalists in moving these contract until the day before this vote, we can only draw the conclusion that there is more we would be troubled by given more time to evaluate them. Burning trash is burning trash. The city has a long way to go to catch up to the leading cities in waste reduction. It could start by simply enforcing the laws on the books for commercial recycling. It could go further by investing in its Recycling Rewards program so that it was actually rewarding to participate in. It could begin seriously exploring collecting organics for composting. Finally, it could get serious about getting rid of waste streams that our city doesn’t need – like plastic grocery bags – and moving to a culture shift of zero waste.