Each week, people all across the country take our trash to the curb, where it promptly disappears. Only it doesn’t disappear, it gets picked up by essential workers who transport it to an incinerator or landfill. This mundane but critical process usually happens thanks to a contract between private companies and our local governments.
But in Haverford Township, there is a group of activists who find our waste management process to be a violation of their nearly religious woke dogma. In fact, they want to end trash pickup entirely without even pretending to think up an alternative.
The group, called Havertown-Area Community Action Network (H-CAN), and its “action group” H-Can Climate Action, portends to “promote equity, justice, inclusivity, and democracy.” One of those ideals has apparently spurred them to make our trash a political and social justice issue through a change.org petition they’ve entitled, “Stop Burning Our Garbage in Chester City.”
But they’re not stopping at a mere petition. They lobbied Haverford Township’s Environmental Advisory Committee to send the goal of the petition — the elimination of our local trash incinerator — to the Township Commission for a vote. At the time of this writing, a memo approving of the petition narrowly failed by a 4-4 Commission vote, with one abstention. Had it passed, these activists would have used the Township’s memo to lobby Delaware County to end its contract with the Delaware Valley Resource Recovery Facility entirely.
Despite this traction, there are some disqualifying issues with the petition, to say the least.
First, there is no mentioned alternative for what Haverford Township and Delaware County residents are to do with their refuse. If the movement is successful, are residents supposed to let the trash pile up outside their homes?
Streets full of garbage is not beyond the realm of possible. In New York City, that’s exactly what occurred at the start of the pandemic. In Philadelphia, trash similarly piled up on curbs to such a disgusting extent that even the normally pliant Inquirer editorial board was moved to demand that Mayor Kenney “pick up the damn trash.” But while those examples were due to city government incompetence, if H-CAN’s efforts were to succeed, our yards would be full of trash thanks to a few dozen radical activists pressuring our local government with virtue-laden nonsense.
Second, the incinerator generates electricity for the nearby community and local businesses, including a Boeing manufacturing plant. H-Can has also neglected to recommend an alternative energy source for these residents and companies, preferring instead to focus only on what makes them feel good rather than what the community actually needs.
Third, the petition makes a series of correlational, not causational claims about the incinerator’s emissions. It states that the facility is the “largest” emitter of mercury and nitrogen oxide, but “largest” gives no context to deduce whether the emissions levels are unsafe or out of compliance with the litany of federal, state, and local environmental regulations. It also claims that nitrogen oxide “triggers asthma attacks.” Presumably, they mean “may induce” asthma based on one’s long-term exposure, but since it’s clear that their petition is based on mere zeal, not science, one can only guess. The CDC states the most common “triggers” of asthma are pollen, allergies, second-hand smoke, and pests — they don’t list trash incineration operating within regulatory guidelines. While the agency recommends we monitor outdoor air pollution forecasts, the present Accuweather forecast for Chester City, at the time of writing, is “fair,” despite the status quo on trash incineration.
In all, H-CAN’s petition relies on nothing more than conjecture and hyperbole. Its writers fail to cite a single source for their wild claims. Wikipedia pages have higher standards than this petition.
Nevertheless, H-CAN doesn’t leave their environmental activism to unfounded scientific claims. Their petition also gets surprisingly racist.
Their only demand when it comes to finding alternatives to the existing incinerator is that Haverford Township and Delaware County only do future business with a city that isn’t majority black. This begs the questions: Is H-CAN advocating for cities to treat waste management companies differently based on the racial makeup of the people who happen to live nearby? And what about incinerating trash near a population that is 49% black rather than 51% black constitutes any sort of justice? Especially if the nearby population of black families now have no way to get the trash off of their sidewalks and the source of electricity for their homes has disappeared.
Does H-Can actually think that Chester City would improve if they were to succeed in their ultimate, imaginary goal of bankrupting the incinerator, its customers taking their million-dollar contracts elsewhere? Forcing businesses and jobs out of Chester City and sending them to whiter communities would hurt Chester City, not help it.
Revealingly, H-CAN admits to not solving the pollution injustice they allege exists. As H-CAN noted in their petition, the incinerator is the largest in the country and losing Delaware County’s contract wouldn’t bankrupt the operation, making this entire effort self-serving. Yet, the H-CAN radicals feel self-righteous enough to tell our local governments to make race a deciding factor in the solution to a different problem they are, ironically, trying to create: A lack of a location to dispose of our trash.
Wallowing in our waste is not “green,” nor hygienic, nor is it racial justice. But, thanks to short-sighted, cult-like activists, it is possible — and that should scare everyone.
Grant Schmidt is a resident of Haverford Township, a firearms instructor, and an underdog candidate for Haverford Township Commissioner in the 6th ward. @GrantSchmidtPolitics