Fat of the Land: Garbage in New York: The Last Two Hundred Years

Fat of the Land: Garbage in New York: The Last Two Hundred Years

Fat of the Land: Garbage in New York: The Last Two Hundred Years

Fat of the Land: Garbage in New York: The Last Two Hundred Years

Synopsis

This study of New York's garbage covers social and scientific theories of class and disease, and includes an in-depth study of the tortured history and imminent closure of the world's largest landfill, New York's Fresh Kills. Photos and illustrations.

Excerpt

The first news story appeared on the morning of April 6, 1987, when the Charlotte Observer reported that a barge filled with New York garbage had been turned away from a privately owned port near Morehead City, North Carolina. Two days later, New York Newsday revealed that the barge was "somewhere out in the Atlantic" and believed to be headed for Louisiana. Two weeks later, its daily progress was being covered by most news media in the country. Before the month was out, the garbage had become famous from London to Beijing.

Lowell Harrelson, a fifty-three-year-old heating and air-conditioning contractor still owned the biggest house in Bay Minette, Alabama, but his business had seen better times. He had defaulted on two government‐ backed business loans, the second of which was for 8.2 million dollars. Other debts were mounting, and it was becoming difficult to keep up his forty-acre estate with its swimming pool, tennis court, three-hole golf course, and man-made lake stocked with catfish and bass. "He was not a shyster," one of his supporters said, "things just keep happening to him." He was a gambler whose weakness, another friend said, "is [that] he does not know how to judge and handle people." He was a better salesman than a money manager, said others. Everyone seemed to agree that he was ruled by enthusiasm.

Inventions were one of his enthusiasms. In the summer of 1976 he watched a farmer use methane from a manure pile to generate electricity to run his milking machines. Methane—natural gas—is produced when any organic waste (such as refuse in a landfill) decomposes. If there were a way of concentrating the waste so that each cubic foot gave off a rich supply of methane, it occurred to Harrelson, an entrepreneur would be able to kill two birds with one stone—dispose of garbage and recover profit from methane at the same time.

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