PhotoResidents of New York City don't know what they've been missing all these years, and if Mayor Michael Bloomberg has his way, they never will. No, we're not talking about smoking in the park, jay-walking, drinking Big Gulps or refusing to risk one's neck by riding a bike on 6th Avenue. We're talking garbage.

For reasons lost in the mists of antiquity, they don't have garbage disposals in New York. Gothamites must scrape their food scraps into the garbage pail and lug it to the curb or, in the case of high-rise dwellers, down the hall to the garbage chute.

When traveling abroad, to places like Los Angeles, New Yorkers are amazed to see table scraps disappear into the kitchen sink amid a loud grinding sound. They must sometimes be cautioned against putting their hand into the grinder to see what all the fuss is about -- sort of the way visiting Angelenos must be cautioned against thinking a crosswalk means anything in NYC.

Not high-tech

The garbage grinder is not exactly high-tech. It's a bunch of blades that whir around under the sink and grind stuff up. The devices have been in general use just about everywhere since 1940 or so. They were, however, illegal in New York City for many years because of fears they would somehow damage the city's sewer system. They became legal in 1997 but are still rare in a city that until recently feared nothing. 

And now, having missed out on the last 70 years or so of garbage-grinding, New Yorkers are being asked to forsake it forever, in favor of composting.

How in the world can you build a compost heap in a 50-story building? Well, you could do it on the roof, perhaps, but there are -- pardon us for mentioning this, Mr. Mayor -- the rats to worry about. Leave food lying around outside and you will soon have rats the size of the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade floats climbing up the back stairs.

But undissuaded, His Honor is pressing ahead with a plan to require his long-suffering subjects to separate food scraps from other types of waste and put them in special waste bins that will be dispersed throughout his realm. 

The city's bean-counters figure it will amount to about 100 tons a year of food scraps and, yes, this will be another reason not to hang around NYC in the summer. 

“This is going to be really transformative,” said Charles F. Holloway IV, a deputy mayor. “You want to get on a trajectory where you’re not sending anything to landfills.”

Fuel from food!

An incinerator in Harrisburg, Pa.
Instead, the city is dreaming of building a composting plant that will magically transform left-over meat and potato scraps into bio-gas, which in turn will be burned to generate electricity. The program will be voluntary for now but city officials expect New Yorkers to be so eager to get on board that it may become mandatory within a few years.

This all sounds peachy, of course, just another day in Camelot. However, anyone with a long memory might suggest that the mayor and his deputies look into the history of the five incinerators that once graced Long Island, the long and narrow island that juts out into the Atlantic east of Mayor Bloomberg's turf.

Back in the day, environmentalists thought that operating landfills on Long Island was dangerous from a pollution standpoint so local politicos built some very expensive incinerators. But then, residents complained about smoke, foul odors and toxic emissions from the incinerators which -- many millions of dollars later -- were closed.

Even former Republican Senator Al D'Amato, who had enthusiastically supported building the incinerators when he was a local Long Island politician, jumped on the bandwagon and insisted the incinerators be closed, even as his faithful brother Armand continued working as a lobbyist for incinerator interests.  

Now, many communities on Long Island and elsewhere in the NYC area just ship their garbage to Virginia and forget about it.

Sounds like a plan. 

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