Waste not want not – Hudson Valley One

Seneca Meadows, destination for garbage from Ulster County (and many other places). Photo by Will Dendis.

“Waste (or wastes) are unwanted or unusable materials. Waste is any substance which is discarded after primary use, or is worthless, defective and of no use. A by-product by contrast is a joint product of relatively minor economic value. A waste product may become a by-product, joint product or resource through an invention that raises a waste product’s value above zero.”
— Wikipedia

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How green is my Hudson Valley? Getting greener all the time, but pesky problems, most of which are universal to human societies, remain unresolved. For instance, how does a sustainable economy deal with the piles of waste it keeps accumulating? How can it learn to convert waste into waste products with a value above zero?

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The monthly meeting of the board of the Ulster County Resource Recovery Agency on Monday afternoon last week at UCRRA headquarters in the Town of Ulster discussed the draft of a consultant-produced ten-year local solid-waste management plan required by state government. And at his state-of-the-county address last Wednesday morning at Kingston High School county executive Pat Ryan extolled the contribution the green economy — including innovations in waste management — can make to creating well-paying 21st-century jobs for Ulster County residents.

The UCRRA is a $16-million public authority that currently employs 30 to 35 people. Of its revenues, $14 million came from tipping fees, the amount charged from landfill users, currently $105 per ton. According to the terms of a 2012 county flow-control law, all private haulers and individuals using the UCRRA facilities must pay the agency. The agency is then responsible for the separation of the waste, most of which is transported in large trailer-trucks 235 miles to the Seneca Meadows landfill in Waterloo, New York. An average of ten truckloads a day are exported to the disposal site about three and a half hours west of Kingston.

In November 2019, the Ulster County Legislature passed a resolution with only a single dissenting vote (legislator Ken Ronk’s) establishing Ulster County as a zero-waste community. It’s now county policy to work to reduce waste destined for landfills and incineration through sustainable materials management and the promotion of reuse. Ambitious goals have been set which will require recruitment and training for green jobs in a wide variety of fields, including innovative ways to divert materials from the solid-waste stream. Accomplishing the goals carries with it the substantial potential to create a demand for new green jobs.

County executive Pat Ryan’s attention is on the supply side: training young people for the new jobs. He proposed a Green Careers Academy at SUNY Ulster and a Green Youth Fellowships for local youths to train for work in green businesses and non-profits. Ryan called these measures “investments in solidifying Ulster County’s position as a leader in the green economy.”

Manna Jo Greene, a fourth-term legislator from Rosendale, chairs both the legislature’s Energy and Environment Committee and the planning commission preparing the ten-year plan for dealing with solid waste. Also the environmental director for the Clearwater, Greene’s an influential figure In setting a direction for Ulster County’s 

environmental policies. Known for her detailed understanding of the issues, she prides herself on being solution-oriented. Greene is familiar with all the characters in the local environmental drama, and she works well with people of different talents and persuasions than herself. She likes to say things like “I used to be a tree-hugger, now I’m a resource person.”

Zero waste might be an unreachable goal, she conceded, but it’s a constructive approach nonetheless. ”Zero waste would spell out how to get from here to there,” she said. “It’s about implementation.” She would like to see greater emphasis in the solid-waste plan on a reduction of waste, a diversion to reuse of materials from a landfill or an incinerator. She’d like a supplement to the draft ten-year solid-waste plan detailing how the county plans to substantially reduce the waste stream.

“We have an opportunity to self-actualize,” she explained after the meeting, waxing eloquent. “We have all this beauty, these natural resources, this diversity. We can do great things.”

In March 2018 Cornerstone Environmental Group, the UCRRA’s consultant, had produced a 304-page report for its client touting a joint solid-waste authority for the counties of Greene, Ulster and Sullivan. After criticism, that concept had “fallen by the wayside,” according to UCRRA executive director Tim Rose. Last October Cornerstone submitted for UCRRA review a ten-year plan envisaging an Ulster County incinerator and landfill to be opened in 2028. 

Greene told the UCRRA board last Monday that it might be relying too much on its consultants. “You should be giving direction to Cornerstone as to the public comments rather than the other way around,” she said at one point. “The board should discuss the suggestions [made by the public].”

UCRRA board chairman Fred Wadnola didn’t agree. “We had been very proactive in the discussions,” he said.” He said the option chosen had been the least expensive.

“Cost is not the be-all, end-all,” remarked board member JoAnn Myers.

After further discussion and adoption by the UCRRA board, the ten-year plan will go to the legislature for approval. 

The terms of two of the five UCRRA board members, vice-chair Katherine Beinkafner and Charles Landi, have expired. Both have indicated a willingness to be reappointed. The legislative Energy and Environment Committee will recommend candidates.