Excerpt of Garbage Land by Elizabeth Royte
(Page 8 of 13)
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When their truck was full, at around ten-thirty, Murphy dropped
Sullivan at the garage, then rumbled over the Gowanus and pulled into
the courtyard of the IESI transfer station, a white-painted brick
building at the corner of Bush and Court Streets, in Red Hook. The drill
here was simple: weigh your truck, then pull around to the tipping
floor, back in, and pull the lever to dump. If the men had loaded their
truck properly, the ejected garbage would extend six to eight feet in a
supercompressed bolus before dropping to the ground. Garbage that simply
spilled out was poorly packed or indicated that the truck hadn't been
full. The quality of the dump was known as "the turd factor." According
to one designer of packer trucks, "The driver can learn from experience
by observing the turd factor and know just how much trash he can put in
the truck per trip. If he gets a good turd on every trip to the
landfill, that's a good day." Judging by the conformation of today's
load, Murphy and Sullivan had done well. The morning's laborstwenty
thousand pounds collected in less than four hoursnow lay in a heap,
indistinguishable from the heaps dumped before or after. Without a
backward glance at what he'd deposited, Murphy put the truck in forward
Integrated Environmental Services Incorporated was founded in 1995
and had grown by acquisitions, gobbling sometimes as many as a hundred
companies a year. It bought this facility from Waste Management in 1999.
By 2003, IESI was the tenth-largest solid waste company in the nation.
In New York it was the third largest, after Waste Management and Allied
I pedaled down to the Court Street station a few days after going out
with Sullivan and Murphy, hoping to speak with the plant manager. The
doors on the bays were closed, and no one was about. I saw no trucks,
and I smelled no garbage. If you didn't know what went on inside this
building, you wouldn't, on a cold and slow autumn day, be able to guess.
I rode around the neighborhood, noting that it was zoned for industry.
Then I turned a corner, from Bush ontojust coincidentallyClinton, and
now the multiple towers of the Red Hook housing projects, home to eleven
thousand mostly low-income residents, rose before me.
Garbage follows a strict class topography. It concentrates on the
margins, and it tumbles downhill to settle in places of least
resistance, among the poor and the disenfranchised. The Gold Coast of
Manhattan's Upper East Side produces far more waste than the
neighborhood of Williamsburg, in Brooklyn, but city officials have never
tried to site an incinerator on Park Avenue, as they did in
Williamsburg. Similarly, landfills have no place within the city limits
of Grosse Point, Beverly Hills, or Palm Beach. Across the nation and
around the world, trash is dumped, metaphorically, upon trash.
Of course, there are, in this era of modern landfills, plenty of
communities that say yes to trash, even to trash generated far, far
away. The inducement is cashor its in-kind equivalent. Tullytown,
Pennsylvania, population 2,200, has raked in $48 million over the last
fifteen years in exchange for burying fifteen million tons of trash,
mostly from New York and New Jersey. Literally, this is the town that
garbage built: waste paid for its town hall, half the police force, the
new fire truck, the marine rescue boat, playground, trees, sidewalks,
lampposts, and fireworks. (Towns that agree to host dumps invariably get
free garbage pickup, too.) The town of Taylor, Pennsylvania, receives a
minimum of $1.5 million a year from the Alliance landfill for hosting a
five-thousand-ton-per-day landfill, in addition to a one-time lump sum
of $900,000, which paid for a new library and a senior center.
From Garbage Land by Elizabeth Royte. Copyright © 2005 by Elizabeth Royte. All rights reserved. No part of this book maybe reproduced without written permission from the publisher.