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TALKING TRASH

Of all the verbal garbage that has been spewed by the supporters of the expansion of the dump over the last 12 months, there is one comment that gets repeated over and over that is particularly odious.  Carocci loves to parrot it although it wasn’t original with him.  Someone else said it first months ago.  I don’t remember who. Banonis has picked it up as have his two sock puppet council members.

The comment is along the lines of “well, you create garbage and so you have no business objecting to it. We’ll always have garbage, so it has to go somewhere.”

This comment is both ignorant and insulting.  Allow me to explain.

First, let’s consider some facts.  There are many ways to significantly reduce waste of all types.  In fact, it’s also possible to eliminate waste completely given innovation, incentive and commitment.  One example:  when my company, iSpring, started work on a sustainability assessment project at the Kraft facility in Fogelsville in 2010 – one million square feet under roof – they had already achieved net zero waste.  That meant that a food production facility that made Grey Poupon mustard, processed Cracker Barrel cheese, manufactured Keurig single serving coffee portions, and a variety of other Kraft products – was producing net zero waste out of a facility that ran three shifts a day, 7 days a week.  How did they do it?  Creativity, incentive, innovation and a determination to meet that goal.  If a food production facility can do it, it can be achieved in much less challenging environments.

But to do it, you have to want to.  You don’t take the smug, selfish attitude that “there’s nothing we can do about it so we just have to suffer.”  Or more precisely, in the case of Lower Saucon, “we can make those with less means and political clout suffer.”  But I’ll get to that part shortly.

In the years that the dump has existed, LST could have been implementing all kinds of public education and services that would have significantly reduced the amount of waste LST residents produce.  There could be a township-wide composting service either by contracting with a composting company and doing township-wide collection or by creating its own composting facility.  And by that I don’t mean the rinky-dink green-material-only composting center we have (or rather had).  I mean a real food waste composting service.

Municipal solid waste is comprised of 24% food waste.  A township composting service would reduce the waste produced by township residents by almost one-quarter.  In addition, if well-run, it would provide compost products back to the township.  Think it’s not possible?  Wrong.  At Swarthmore College, iSpring helped them expand their small student-run composting project to a campus-wide program.  On a broader level, San Francisco, San Diego, San Antonio, Austin, Boulder, Denver, Seattle, and Portland are among the 326 cities and towns in the U.S. that have access to food waste curbside collection as of 2022.1

Such a program would certainly be doable in a relatively small township like Lower Saucon. And in the 8 or so years since the dump announced they were closing the dump (a lie – but that’s another issue), LST could have made significant progress.  

There are lots of other ways to recycle and reuse “waste.”  Revolution Recovery runs a robust construction materials recycling company in the Valley.  There are companies that recycle cooking oil.  Fegley’s Brewery runs an excellent in-house recycling program that uses food waste from its brewing process to fertilize the growth of its brewing ingredients.  It’s all there if you want or need it and in enlightened places like Chester County, the county itself either runs or promotes a variety of recycling and reuse programs.

Another major approach to reducing waste is a program like Circular Philadelphia, an environmental 501(c)(3) dedicated to the promotion of a circular economy, i.e. one where products have a continuous lifecycle of reuse.  It’s a fascinating concept taking shape in many cities in the U.S. such as Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Austin, Houston and San Antonio.  If you want to learn more, check out their website at circularphiladelphia.org, especially their blog.

Of course it hasn’t even been tried in LST because the Environmental Advisory Council has been under do-nothing leadership for years now.  If you look at their annual objectives, they’re the same year after year with little or no progress under the chairmanship of Councilperson Sandra Yerger, whose supposed contributions were greenwashed by naming the former Woodland Hills tract after her.  Frankly, if your big accomplishment each year is running an e-cycling event – which, if you don’t know, is contracted out to a recycling company and not run by the township – then you’re not accomplishing much.  

Then to make matters worse, the Council (except for Mrs. deLeon) overrode the EAC’s recommendation for its new chairperson in January 2023, the estimable Dr. Dru Germanoski, a Lafayette College environmental geologist, and instead installed know-nothing Councilperson Carocci as chairman.  The Council followed that up with ignoring the EAC’s recommendation to fill a voting position with an experienced, long-term EAC member and instead appointed someone with no experience on the EAC at all and no obvious environmental background.  This is all in line with this current Council’s tactic of packing township committees with toadies and yes-men – and they’re mostly men – so that they can control what happens. 

Now at the heart of the problem is the fact that there are two myths that have been circulating in the township which the dump enthusiasts do nothing to counter.  One is the belief that all the waste in the dump comes from LST.  That is patently ridiculous.  A township as small as ours couldn’t possibly generate that amount of waste in a half-century or so.  And the other is that all the waste from LST goes to the dump.  So let’s correct both of those.

  1.  55-60% of the waste that’s dumped in dump comes from outside THE STATE.  Not just outside LST.  There’s a lot that comes from other places in the county and the state.  But 55-60% comes from New Jersey, New York and other states.
  2. All of LST’s waste does NOT go to the dump.  Because the township has never bothered to put together an integrated trash, recycling or composting program, each household can contract with its own choice of hauler and those haulers are not required to dump at the dump in the township.  They can go wherever they get the best price or that works best for their routes. There’s no connection between the cost of your trash hauling and the size of the Bethlehem Dump so complaining that your trash costs will go up if they don’t expand the dump just makes you look dumb (with a b).

What do those two facts mean?  First, while it’s good practice for the environment and the future of our kids and grandkids to minimize your waste of all kinds, it won’t necessarily have a big impact on our dump because only 40-45% of the waste there even comes from PA, let alone LST.  Second, creating an integrated trash, recycling and composting program and sending it to the dump might increase the percentage of LST waste that goes there, but with a responsible and effective program, the waste savings in volume would probably offset the movement of all waste to the dump.

So why bother to do anything?  There’s obviously no answer here.  Well, that’s what the dump lovers would have you believe.  But in fact the obvious answer is to refuse to let the dump expand and have it close down when the latest already-approved Expansion is filled up.  At that point, the reduction in waste that the township will have created through active and innovative EAC and Council leadership will begin to reduce the cost of the collection and disposal of township waste.  It’s simple economics.

Of course if you only want to do the minimal amount of work necessary as a Council member or committee member and just let the dump grow and grow and negatively affect residents’ lives, you won’t be interested in doing any of that.  Somehow it’s appropriate that two council members take no compensation for their positions.  They don’t do anything to justify it.

The even uglier component of the comment is the implication that anyone who generates waste has no right to complain about the conditions caused by a badly managed dump.  This criticism is not directed at those who live on the west side of the township and out of sight, out of mind of the dump.  This is directly aimed at those who have organized themselves to fight the dump expansion, many of whom – although by no means all – live within smelling distance of the dump and have to deal with the degraded roads, the run-off, the slippery mud, the polluted air and the stench.  They have no right to complain because, hey, trash has to go somewhere and you chose to live there.

Let’s consider that choice.  First of all, there was a thriving community in the Steel City area long before Bethlehem starting dumping their garbage there.  And the dump that Bethlehem started was nowhere close to the size of what it is today or the size it will be in ten years if allowed to expand.

Second, there have been a number of more recent residents who have moved to that area who have reported that they were assured upon questioning at the township office or their realtors, that in fact the dump would be closing in 5, 6, 7 (pick a number) years.  So they, in good faith, purchased property.  And then, surprise, turns out there are plans to continue the dump for another 20+ years. 

If you’re really gullible, you might believe this was a very recent decision on the part of the landfill company.  Bullshit.  It takes a long time to develop and get approval for and then create an expansion of the size they’re considering.  They didn’t just suddenly come up with the idea last October.  In fact, if you look at the history of the political leanings of the council people, it becomes quite clear that the maneuvering to create a friendly environment for the expansion has been in the works for a good number of years.  Reading past issues of Saucon Shenanigans over the past 3+ years makes the trajectory much more obvious.

The really disgusting part of this is the attitude of the Council (except for Mrs. deLeon) towards the residents who have organized and fundraised to fight off this expansion.  Two incidents are particularly putrid.  The first was on Wednesday, August 30, when Banonis called out the litigants in the lawsuit against the township as “selfish” and proceeded to share publicly their home addresses.  He also suggested that other residents go and talk to the litigants about the lawsuit, implying they bring pressure to bear on the litigants.  Carocci of course, ever the parrot, reinforced the name-calling of “selfish” residents.  This is a practice known as “doxing,” making contact information for people you don’t like available to the public with the hope that some other residents will use that information to harass the people you’ve doxed.

Then, on Wednesday, September 20, Banonis took it another step farther.  In his report, he attacked Ginger Petrie, one of the litigants, by publicly sharing all the financial information about what she paid for her property, subsequent subdivisions, conservation easements she was granted, etc.  Now all this is in the public record, but frankly who really cares.  Everything was done legally and appropriately. But Carocci – who really has no right to comment during Banonis’s report but who just rudely jumps in whenever he wants to – said “she’s currently suing right, to prevent the Township from receiving about $70 to $80 million in host municipal fees during an 18-year period.”2  To connect those two items and direct it specifically at Mrs. Petrie is just ludicrous.  Mrs. Petrie has every right to defend the value of her property, as do all the other litigants. And you can bet your bottom dollar that if some other council proposed an equally odious installation within a quarter mile of either Banonis’s or Carocci’s property, they’d be in court so fast it would make your head spin. 

More than that – not to make too fine a point –  but we as township residents have every reason to expect that our elected council members will also work in our best interest and not in the interest of a multi-billion dollar, out-of-state corporation that has in the past funded a PAC with the stated goal of supporting their candidacies.  If, as we all fervently wish, this expansion is defeated, it won’t be because Mrs. Petrie or the other litigants sued.  It will be because the township Council behaved irresponsibly and incompetently.

Further to the concept of environmental justice, it has for a long time and in many places been the practice to place unpleasant or downright dangerous public facilities (dumps, incinerators, power plants, wastewater treatment plants, etc.) in low-income areas on the insulting but sadly often accurate assumption that those residents have neither the means nor the understanding to fight what was happening to them.  The location of the original dump is a perfect example.  The City of Bethlehem put it across the river, down from the steel mills, far from the “nice neighborhoods” on the north and west side, in proximity to Steel City and Freemansburg, neither of which were “high rent districts”.  It wasn’t even located within the Bethlehem city limits. They then washed their hands of it by selling it to a corporation and turning it over to Lower Saucon Township to monitor.  Lower Saucon made no attempt to control the size or the nuisances from the dump and let it grow and grow.  And now they are finally faced with opposition that has means and organizational skills to put a stop to it in collaboration with those who have lived under these conditions for too long.

The only way to turn this ship around is to return control of the Council to those who care about the future of the township – all of the township, not just those who arrogantly believe the comment that started this blog.  Yes, you can do something about it.  Yes, you have the right to fight for your property and its value.  No, you don’t have to take the abuse any longer.

On November 7, vote for Priscilla deLeon, Victoria Opthof-Cordaro, and Laura Ray for township council.  Do NOT vote for anyone with an R after their name – this year, it stands for Rip-off.

1 Oregon Student Public Interest Research Group, becompostable.com

LST Council minutes, Wednesday, September 20, 2023, p. 14 of 22.


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