The New York Times takes a look at some of the questions we raised last month in "Recycling the City," about the enormous amounts of waste left over in New Orleans after the storms. The Times article gives a good sense of the scale of the problem, which amounts to 22 million tons of garbage:
It is more trash than any American city produces in a year. It is enough to fill the Empire State Building 40 times over. It will take at least 3.5 million truckloads to haul it away. [...] This is not even counting the cars that have been abandoned on sidewalks, or the boats stranded on the streets. It is not counting the more than 1 million refrigerators, stoves and washing machines on curbs all over the area. This is not counting any of the hundreds of homes that will inevitably be demolished.
Unfortunately, while raising many useful questions about just how this clean-up will be accomplished, the article focuses a bit too much on how awful the rotting food smells, and gives scant attention to the question of handling the tons of potentially dangerous materials that should not go into landfills. Worse, it leaves out any suggestion that potentially a large portion of the waste could be recycled. This will not be the last major urban clean-up effort we undertake this century, and possibly not even this decade; we need to get better at not making the situation worse in the long-term.