EXPERT INSIGHTS: Long Island’s Plans for C&D Disposal Must Include Rail

EXPERT INSIGHTS: Long Island’s Plans for C&D Disposal Must Include Rail

By:     Patricia DelCol | Senior Vice President & Municipal Market Director

            Joseph Cline, P.E.Senior Associate & Water Resources Practice Leader

With the impending closure of the Brookhaven Landfill to construction and demolition (C&D) waste at the end of 2024, businesses and municipalities across Long Island are looking for alternative ways to handle the 2.6 million tons of municipal solid waste (MSW) and 5.3 million tons of C&D waste produced by the region annually.

Municipal solid waste is the everyday garbage that the public discards; these are the items that are picked up curbside by municipal garbage workers or third-party haulers. Construction and demolition waste, meanwhile, is the garbage created by the construction, repair, renovation, or demolition of structures, including leftover asphalt, clay, plaster, and drywall materials. This material is not picked up curbside.

Various alternatives to shipping MSW off-island have been proposed, from constructing anaerobic digesters to the increasing the capacity of existing waste-to-energy facilities. However, these types of facilities do not address the closure of the Brookhaven Landfill and the disposal of C&D debris, which cannot be processed though technologies available for MSW. This has led to concerns that illegal dumping incidents will increase once the Brookhaven Landfill stops accepting C&D debris. Once Brookhaven closes, only one C&D landfill on Long Island will remain, and once that landfill hits its daily permitted limit, the only other option for disposal of C&D debris will be to transport it off the island.

Currently, over 1 million tons of MSW and C&D debris are transported off-island per year, 91% of which is taken by truck and only 9% by railcar. Once the Brookhaven Landfill stops accepting C&D debris, approximately 1.2 million tons of additional waste will need to be transported off-island every year. A report by Winter Bros. Waste Systems titled “The State of Waste” estimates that these 1.2 million tons of solid waste will amount to an additional 60,000 trucks on our roads.

Trucking an additional 1.2 million tons of solid waste would not only be prohibitively expensive, it would also significantly increase traffic congestion, decrease air quality by way of pollution, and take a major toll on Long Island’s already-strained highways. By developing a robust railway infrastructure for solid waste, we can transport waste off-island far more efficiently, with larger quantities of waste carted by fewer vehicle operators. Railway transportation is far friendlier to our environment and infrastructure than an additional 60,000 trucks on our roads.

The good news is that this vital railway infrastructure is already being developed. There are currently three rail transfer stations—facilities which allow trucks to deposit local waste for processing, filtering, and shipping—located on Long Island, with three additional stations in development, including one designed by H2M architects + engineers.

A comprehensive solid waste management plan for the region should examine all possible alternatives to local landfills, but rail infrastructure must be a significant part of that plan in order to control costs, cut pollution, preserve the conditions of our roads, and protect our natural environment.