The Oil Drum: New York City

Helping New Yorkers understand, prepare and adapt to the implications of Peak Oil

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Composting for a greener New York

My building's tenant's association has decided to begin a newsletter. Recently, after a neighbor saw me taking a my bag of compost to the Union Square Greenmarket, she asked me to write an article about composting to explain it to other building residents. I thought the information might be informative for readers of PO-NYC too.

I was a regular at the Union Square Greenmarket for almost two years before I got curious about the stand at the southeastern end of the market. “Help create a sustainable NYC!” their sign says. I stopped to look, and discovered that the stand is run by the Lower East Side Ecology Center (7th St. between Aves. A and B), which is dedicated to recycling, composting, and environmental education. At the Greenmarket, the volunteers collect kitchen scraps that are used to make compost. Compost provides nutrients to soil and helps it retain moisture.

Composting is environmentally responsible and practical too, since it benefits city gardeners. The LES Ecology Center website notes that “The Department of Sanitation (DSNY) collects roughly 11,000 tons of ‘garbage’ every day, and according to DSNY’s waste compositions analysis, organic materials – anything from yard, wood to food waste – make up 26% of the waste stream.” By composting, New Yorkers could potentially save 2,860 tons of waste per day from entering the sanitation system.

Composting is simple. I have a small garbage can for composting under the sink, but if you have a balcony, you could put a covered trash can outside. I line the can with a plastic bag, and during the week, I make sure to separate the organic waste from the rest of the trash. Organic waste consists of all vegetables and fruits, bread and pasta, coffee and tea, among other items. Dairy, meat, and animal food are not composted. The volunteers at the Greenmarket give out a detailed list of compostable items to take home. The next step is to take the compost up to the LES Ecology Center stand at the Union Square Greenmarket. They’re there on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday from 8am-5pm. All you have to do is drop your bag in their bin.

In many ways, New Yorkers are good environmental citizens without realizing it. By living in apartment buildings and taking public transportation, our lifestyle is pretty efficient. But there are other minimal changes that people can make in order to further reduce both energy consumption and waste. For example, consider buying compact fluorescent light bulbs, which only consume about 25 watts of energy, but give off the same amount of light as a 100W bulb and last 10 times as long. Another idea is to carry a small cloth bag for short trips to the grocery store. Cloth bags can be folded into a square just a couple of inches wide and easily stored in your purse or briefcase.

In the end, the small actions will help New York City become a greener place to live.

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Wednesday, August 17, 2005

New Yorkers feel the pain, too

Most of us don't drive much, but still, rising gas prices hurt city residents. The New York Sun reports on the effect the higher prices are having on cabbies and the city budget.

I wasn't planning on posting this article here, except that then they touched on my pet issue: Chuck Schumer and the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.
Still, New York's politicians are vowing to take action to lower gas prices.

At a press conference yesterday, Mayor Bloomberg said the Department of Consumer Affairs is inspecting gas stations to make sure that retailers aren't watering down their petroleum or manipulating their meters.

And in June, Senator Schumer introduced an amendment to an energy bill that would have opened the nation's Strategic Petroleum Reserve to domestic consumers. The amendment died after the Senate, in a vote of 57 to 39, voted to table it.
Ick. The last thing we need is for the press to spin this in a positive light.

Another worrisome bit:

Mr. Bombardiere, former owner of an Exxon station in downtown Brooklyn, said customers are increasingly using credit cards, rather than cash, to pay their escalating gas bills. And with credit-card companies taking a 3% fee on purchases made with plastic, the trend away from cash takes a heavy toll on stations' bottom lines.
I keep reading about how people are putting themselves further into debt because of high gas prices, and it bothers me. The credit card seems to be the classic (American) escapist response when people don't want to take responsibility for a financial crunch (to wit: thousands of college kids getting into debt to buy pizza and beer.) I wish I knew more about how personal debt affects the economy, but I know it's not good, and will be especially bad if our financial institutions collapse.

Still, I really do feel for the cabbies, and I wouldn't mind the city giving them a break somehow. But what a Catch-22. On one hand, I'd want to advocate for more subway riding and less taxi-taking, but on the other hand, it's these guys' livelihood. What's the solution to the problem?

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Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Green continuing ed at CUNY

Hi everyone! I decided to join PeakOilNYC, since I kept sending Peakguy ideas for posts. It didn't seem fair making him do my work for me, so here I am. You probably already know this, but I'm also a regular poster at The Oil Drum, so if you don't already read us over there, come on over!

Today I want to let you know about some interesting continuing education workshops at CUNY Graduate Center (5th Ave at 34th St.) that are open to the public. Though not free in most cases, they are usually only a session or two, are reasonably priced and might be a good way to learn more about sustainability, green design, and the organic food chain.

  • Sustainable Future. These classes include Ten Principles for Successful Development Around Transit, Introduction to Sustainability, and The Bioregional Approach to Sustainable Cities, among others.
  • Architecture, Design, and Planning. Learn about green building design, photovoltaics in buildings, and sustainable construction.
  • Food Matters. These courses focus on organic vs. local, and how food systems impact the urban environment.
I'm thinking about taking the series called Beyond Farmer's Markets: Putting Food Systems on the Urban Map, since I'm especially interested in how an environment like a city, which obviously doesn't have agricultural capacity, will fare in the future.

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Monday, July 25, 2005

Better Mass Transit is the answer for all

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It is incumbent on all of us drivers and users of Mass Transit to have transit fully funded like other services. Congestion pricing and tolling the East River Bridges is politically unpopular but it is a major part of the solution. We need the commuter tax reinstated so that comuter-persons who earn a living here aren't unfairly subsidized by urban dwellers. The commuter tax should be dedicated solely to subsidizing Mass transit operations. We need BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) to operate within the 5 boros so commuters will be drawn out of their autos. It is working in LA (land of the automoblie) and around the world. For BRT to be a reality we also need the "political will" to implement and it requires only 3 things with not much infrastructure investment. You must get NYPD, NYC-DOT and the MTA in a locked room to agree to implement BRT and not just agree to another BRT study. What is needed is!
  1. Real enforcement of Bus only lanes on major streets in NYC.
  2. A transponder on the bus to safely change lights green in favor of the bus.
  3. Pre-boarding Kiosks at heavy usage stops like 14 Street, 42 Street where passengers have already swiped their Metro-Cards and need only board the bus when it arrives.

We need a greener less fossil fuel system and how about a pilot all electric fleet on one line to begin the feasibility to convert eventually all electric city-wide. If we can fuel them with wind feeding the electric supply. We can do this with overhead Catenary wire system which could be bus or light rail with (no autos alowed) avenues. There are issues with siting bus garages in lower economic areas, where the diesel emissions cause a propensity to childhood asthma. Electric and CNG (Compressed Natural Gas) could reverse that negative health trend. Obviously electric power is preferred but CNG is better than diesel.

Please share your thoughts.