Sanitation workers tore into a plastic garbage bag, searching for clues. The giveaway could have been a receipt, a letter.
In the end, an unopened envelope from a mail-order publishing contest was the telltale evidence needed to trace the smelly bag to its source.
A police officer who follows the local garbage truck as part of the new detail tracked down the culprit--one of the many people who, since January, have had to be told they were mishandling their garbage. About 20 have been arrested and fined for violating city codes on trash disposal.
Garbage--and how to throw it away--has taken on a whole new meaning for the 7,900 residents of Hudson since last fall, when the county landfill was closed for pollution violations.
Disposal Requires Effort
People in Columbia County do not simply drag the week’s trash to the curb anymore. Disposal takes thought, time and money.
City residents must place $2 stickers on their garbage bags or they will not be picked up. That is because the county has to come up with an estimated $6 million to pay for shipping the trash elsewhere.
Hudson residents who consistently refuse to use the stickers can be assessed a $15 service charge, plus a $5 charge per bag, which is placed on their quarterly water and sewer bills.
But even the sticker system is not foolproof.
When the program began in December, there were some complaints of sticker stealing. Then, the stickers did not adhere well in cold weather, and more than one resident has been seen chasing after one on a cold and windy day. Now the county is considering giving up the stickers and selling garbage bags instead.
“It’s difficult. It really is,” Paulette Riegel said from behind the counter in her furniture and crafts store. “You never knew garbage was worth so much.”
Sections for Recycling
“My animals love it, because they are getting more scraps from the table than ever,” says Riegel, who seems to be taking the new regulations in stride. At least one customer had already ordered a special wooden bin divided into sections for recycling, which soon will be mandatory.
Down the main street, another store owner said she called the county to ask how best to dispose of hundreds of cardboard boxes from shipments to her store. Because cardboard recycling had not yet begun, she was told to cut the boxes into little pieces, place them in garbage bags and put them at the curb--with the mandatory sticker on the bag.
The boxes remained at the store until she gave them to a community group.
Other people have not been that conscientious.
Early resistance to the new rules prompted the special police garbage team.
“People who reside outside the city were bringing their garbage into the city and dumping it in the alleys,” Police Chief James Dolan Jr. said. On the upside, he said, compliance is improving.
Reaction from residents has been “a very mixed bag,” county Board of Supervisors Chairman Francis Blake says.
Liquor store owner Julie Goldweitz says the recycling and sticker program is “a pain in the neck, but other than that, it makes perfect sense to me. We’re doing what we should have been doing for years. If that’s the real cost of us living here on this planet, then we have to pay for it.”
The rest of New York state--and the nation--might do well to learn from the misfortune of Columbia County, if they are not already in the throes of garbage disposal problems, government and industry officials say.
“It is not unusual in these times for counties or municipalities--in the East, especially--to find themselves with no disposal alternative,” Joe Salimondo, editor of Waste Age magazine in Washington, said.
Some big cities have already run out of landfill space and now export their garbage at very high cost, he said.
The notorious Long Island barge that spent eight weeks at sea in 1987 and was rejected by several states and three countries, was a prime example of garbage with no place to go.
14,000 Tons of Ash
Philadelphia had a similar experience with a freighter that was laden with 14,000 tons of ash and was at sea for two years. It was rejected by at least 11 countries and eventually turned up empty in Singapore, under a different name and ownership.
“The worst situation for waste disposal is in the northeastern part of the United States, because of the population density and the lack of availability of disposal sites,” says Ross Patten, vice president of Browning-Ferris Industries, a nationwide waste hauler based in Houston. “Other parts of the country are not as acutely affected, other than California.”
“Columbia County should serve as a warning to a lot of other communities who haven’t taken affirmative action toward resolving their solid waste problems,” says R. W. Groneman of the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
In New York, where 20 million tons of garbage are produced annually, the state has implemented tough new standards on landfills and has a set a goal of reducing or recycling 50% of the waste by the mid-1990s.
A number of New York communities are opening landfills, composting leaves, instituting recycling and requiring use of special garbage bags to raise revenue for increased disposal costs.
Unfortunately, Columbia County’s problem was a political football and nothing was done until the issue reached crisis proportions.
“The landfills that we as a nation have built over the years are filling up,” Salimondo says. “But the public reaction to landfills--thanks to the whole earth movement of the last 18 years--have made people aware that they don’t want a landfill in their back yard.”