Compost, trucking, and other garbage

(Scroll to the bottom for today's bit on Black History Month.)

I find myself today at, a website for truck drivers. Interesting. Of course, it is compost that has led me here, albeit via a circuitous route. Here’s a sort of overview of the process: Compost, yard-waste, garbage, landfills, municipal solid waste, cities, New York City.

Put it all together and you get the question, What does New York City do with its garbage?

The answer is that it exports it by truck and rail to Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, New Jersey, and Virginia, besides sending a fair amount upstate.

Something I’ve learned while digging through the garbage recently: nothing is straightforward, and some of the stories are so ludicrous, so intricate and unlikely, that it’s hard to decide whether to laugh or cry. Toronto, for instance, has been sued by no fewer than three First Peoples (the Oneida, the Chippewa, and the Munsee) over its newly purchased Green Lane Landfill site. And that’s just the tip of that particular garbage pile.

So, back to the garbage that New York City trucks north. Here's the thing: the New York Thruway, the natural road north, is a toll road. You pay as you go. So drivers and their companies prefer the back roads.

The back roads, of course, go through small towns, and the residents of those towns don’t like that parade of trucks rumbling and clanging past their doors at two in the morning, every morning. So they raised a stink.

In May of 2008 the governor of New York banned NYC garbage trucks, by executive order, from using back roads. Do you remember what was happening to the price of gasoline back in May? You can imagine how the drivers felt when they were suddenly hit by the requirement that they now pay tolls.

That doesn’t make Gov. Peterson’s order unreasonable or wrong. But it does highlight the insanity of trucking garbage hundreds of miles for disposal. And it points out with new urgency what we already know: composting makes sense.

Where did this item pop up? At Truckers upset as New York governor bans trash haulers from back roads <>.

Composting may make sense, but researching it sure leads to some odd places.


A Rational for Black History Month

In Blink, Malcolm Gladwell’s fascinating book about snap decisions and judgments, Gladwell discusses how race and gender influence such judgments. I don’t mean, here, the race or gender of the person making the judgment, but the race or gender of the person being judged. If I notice that you are black, what happens inside my head? If you’re aware that I’m female, how does that skew anything else you think about what I say, do, or write?

In other words, what hidden prejudices do we carry within us, even if we believe ourselves to be enlightened and free of prejudice?

Gladwell has some extraordinary and sometimes terrifying stories to tell, including a summary of an experiment which showed that when African-American students identified their race before taking tests, their scores dropped.

This makes me want to weep aloud. Our cultural devaluing of blacks runs so deep that to check a box labeled “African-American” activates all those old ideas about blacks not being as bright as whites—even for blacks themselves. To think that I might be totally free of these ideas—these caustic prejudices—seems to me ridiculous.

Another study suggests that we can, thank goodness, do something to drive these stereotypes from our heads. The antidote, Gladstone advises, is to spend time—daily, if possible—contemplating African-Americans whom one profoundly respects. That’s what I’ve tried to do here during February, though far less often than I wish.

What’s truly incredible is that now, whenever one glances at a TV set or a magazine, one sees such a person—our President. It’s enough to give one hope.

4 Responses to Compost, trucking, and other garbage

  1. Great post, Kate. Oh the places compost will take you.

  2. I’ve been cleaning out my old files and shredding them lately; I’ve been taking the bags to the recycling bin, but as soon as it warms up to start composting again, it’s all going into the heap…

  3. I always wonder what is better for paper and cardboard. Recycling or composting? I usually recycle over composting since I have so much carbon material for the compost pile anyway.

  4. Oh so true, Melanthia!
    Sounds like a plan, Susan. I’m never sure about office paper (what is it treated with? what about the ink?) though I wouldn’t worry about it in small quantities.
    I wish I knew, Daphne. But it seems to me that if you’re keeping them out of the local landfill or incinerator, you’re already doing well.
    I’ve been experimenting with dumping some of my cardboard in a garbage bin, wetting it, and leaving it long enough to partially decay before I rip it up and stuff bits into the compost heap.

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