The Green City Project was designed to help cities and communities to become sustainable, incorporating green principles on issues such as solid waste, environmental quality, housing, transportation, economic development, energy, culture, media, parks, and water. The project used the City of Troy as its initial model in 2000.
The projects involved: redesigning the city’s solid waste program to become volume based; improving the city’s recycling program; developing proposals related to municipal composting; proposing a phase-out of pesticides by the municipality; proposing the establishment of an Environmental Management Council for the City of Troy; and, researching how the City of Troy could promote energy conservation.
The City of Troy has a weak solid waste program, with less than 20% of the solid waste stream being recycled. There is a limited program to collect yard waste. A major problem is that Troy charges a separate fee for recycling of $29, while the collection and disposal of garbage is “hidden” within the city tax base (e.g., no itemization on residents’ tax bills). There is no financial incentive for residents to reduce their amount of garbage; indeed, many residents avoid recycling since they feel they “are charged for recycling, while garbage is free”. There is also skepticism that the materials set out for recycling are in fact recycled, especially following news reports several years ago that newspapers that residents were putting out for recycling were in fact landfilled.
The City of Binghamton, with similar demographics to Troy, had increased its recycling rate to 50% since instituting a Pay as You Throw system, charging $3 a bag. Binghamton spends several hundred thousand dollars less than Troy in landfilling fees annually by diverting materials into its recycling program.
The proposal by the Green City Project to move to a volume based solid waste program was endorsed by the Troy Record, the local newspaper. The Mayor of the City of Troy however expressed reservations about going to a volume based program that utilized a per bag fee, since he doesn’t want the City to become involved in enforcement. He has suggested that a program based on charging city residents based on the number of people per household might be an alternative to the present system. However, this would not provide any incentive to residents to reduce the amount of garbage they generate or increase their recycling.
The Project held a community meeting at the YWCA in Troy in early March to explain how a volume base system would work and to solicit community feedback. While many residents were supportive, concerns were raised about whether landlords would be responsible for ensuring that their tenants participated (the answer is yes) and the issue of enforcement. Residents also wanted to be sure that their taxes would go down if garbage costs were being removed from the tax base. The City of Troy had been on the verge of bankruptcy in recent years due to long-term mismanagement, and property taxes were raised considerably in recent years as a result. Residents want assurances that a volume based system is not just an effort to generate additional “tax” revenues.
The Project designed a survey to obtain feedback from Troy residents on a volume based solid waste program as well as recycling and composting. The survey was conducted door to door in several neighborhoods, as well as distributed at various community meetings. While a majority of residents stated support for a volume based system, it is also clear that residents need additional information about how such a system would operate. The class is preparing a report detailing the advantages of a volume based system, including doing a cost-benefit analysis of such a system.
The Project is also examining how to strengthen and expand composting in the City of Troy. The City presently has a limited yard waste collection program, though the yard waste is not composted by the City itself. The City has applied for Community Development Block Grant funding to initiate its own compost program for yard waste, using the compost materials for local parks. The Project is examining how to promote backyard composting for residents and developing a food compost effort for large institutions and restaurants. The Project has developed background information about how to do home composting and has distributed this door to door in neighborhoods throughout the City. The Campus Greening initiative is about to start a composting program for food waste from student cafeterias on campus; one possibility is to see whether Russell Sage, a nearby college, may be able to participate or institute its own effort.
The Green City Project has also worked with members of the Troy City Council to propose a pesticide phaseout ordinance, based on similar ordinance recently adopted in Albany County and the Town of Bethlehem. Pesticides are frequently toxic, and many have been shown to cause cancer in humans. Additionally, they are frequently expensive to purchase and apply. In 1997, New York’s commercial applicators and farmers used 16.7 million pounds and 2.4 million gallons of pesticides in this state.
The federal government at best has sought to reduce the amount of toxic exposure from pesticides rather than pushing for alternatives to be developed; the chemical and pesticide industry remains a powerful force in Congress. As part of an effort to promote the reduction and eventual elimination of pesticides, environmentalists are increasingly asking local governments to set an example by reducing their own use of pesticides.
The students during the spring semester investigated what pesticides the City of Troy is presently using. They have done extensive research on the pesticides being used at the municipal golf course (e.g., iprodione, chlorothalonil, triadimefon) and have compiled information on alternative uses, including integrative pest management strategies for golf course maintenance. They met with the Editorial Board of the Troy Record, who endorsed the Green City Project’s initiative. Beth Walsh, a member of the Troy City Council, introduced a proposed ordinance at the April 6th City Council meeting.