The Waste Reduction and Management Institute (WRMI) was created by the New York State Legislature in 1985 to confront the increasingly complex waste issues arising on Long Island, where per capita waste generation exceeds that in the rest of the U.S. Long Island is also a place where future landfills have been prohibited to protect the Island's drinking water, which is solely derived from an underground aquifer.
WRMl's goal is to reduce the impact of waste generation on society through a program of research, assessment, education, and policy analysis. To realize this goal, efforts have been aimed at reducing the amount of waste generated through the promotion of waste prevention strategies, educational programs, and the development of creative uses for waste materials.
Continuing Research Programs
The Institute has grown considerably since its inception. The first director was appointed in 1987, and WRMI has since expanded to encompass a faculty of 11, plus an adjunct faculty of 10 and support staff. WRMI faculty currently maintain five research laboratories at SoMAS. An Advisory Board, comprised of experts from government, environmental organizations, and private industry, was formed in 1992 so that the Institute might benefit from the expertise of others in the fields of waste management and public policy.
Research activities have spanned a wide range of waste issues. Examples include an investigation of rates of decomposition of degradable plastics in a variety of environments; an assessment of the use of municipal solid waste (MSW) compost as a soil amendment in the commercial production of sod; examinations of toxic substances in the marine food web; evaluations of transport mechanisms and economic consequences of marine debris in New York State coastal waters; a study of the possible relationship between ocean dumping of sewage sludge and shell disease in deep-sea red crabs; and the development of secondary materials, such as recycled plastic lumber and construction material comprised of MSW combustor ash and concrete.
Some of these secondary materials have already been successfully tested in a variety of experimental applications. For example, ash left after burning municipal solid waste has been tested as a substitute for aggregate. The ash is stabilized by mixing it with cement, and the mix is used in the fabrication of construction-grade blocks and other concrete forms. The ash-cement blocks were used to build a boathouse in 1990 on the university campus, the first such project in the United States. WRMI, with the State Department of Health, have recently finished internal air quality and surrounding soil chemistry tests, and the building blocks have been given a clean bill of health.
Education and Public Outreach
WRMI has been continually committed to developing educational programs. In collaboration with the School of Continuing Education, WRMI developed the Environmental Management Graduate Certificate Program, an 18-credit graduate-level course of study designed to prepare students for careers in waste management. The first class of graduates received their certificates in 1991. Since then, a total of 37 students have completed the certificate program, In 1993, 10 students completed the program, 31 new students were enrolled, and the program was expanded to offer students the option to earn a Master of Professional Studies degree with a concentration in Waste Management.
Public outreach has been an integral component of WMl's mission throughout its history. In cooperation with the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry and the New York Center for Hazardous Waste Management at the University at Buffalo, WRMI has recently celebrated the fifth year of publication of the Waste Management Research Report, an informative journal published three times yearly which focuses on a specific environmental or waste management problem with each new issue. Waste Management Institute faculty and staff-are continually called upon to make presentations to various community groups, classrooms, and clubs on myriad environmental issues. WMl's special public outreach endeavors have been a feature of community Earth Day activities throughout the years.
Currently, WRMI is broadening its public education efforts in an attack on the persistent problem of beach debris. The Institute produced a video designed for grade school children to teach them how floatable debris gets on beaches and what can be done to prevent it. Also, a poster has been published for display at public beaches to help educate the general public on this topic.
Waste Management on the Policy Front
WRMI has organized and hosted a variety of conferences designed to bring together professionals to discuss and solve difficult waste management problems. Some topics addressed at these conferences included floatable debris in the ocean, ocean dumping, and medical wastes. In summer 1994, WRMI hosted a symposium to draw together State and local leaders from across Long Island to aid in the development of an integrated waste management plan for the entire Island. This effort follows the completion of a comprehensive analysis of the environmental and societal impacts associated with the Suffolk County Plastics Law, which proposed banning the use of certain plastic polymers in retail food applications.
Broadening Roles for the Future
Additions of two new faculty in the past year have expanded WMl's base of expertise, enhancing the Institute's capabilities in marine pollution and secondary materials development research. WRMI has also embarked on a program to extend activities beyond the shores of Long Island to address waste management and pollution issues around the world.
WRMI has recently initiated research projects in sediment contamination in Lake Ontario, bioaccumulation of metals in bivalves from San Francisco Bay, and studies on the effects of radioactive wastes in the Arctic waters of Russia. Institute personnel have also begun a collaboration with researchers of Politecnico di Bari in Apulia, Italy to foster an international exchange of ideas and expertise on waste management and pollution issues.