Superstorm Sandy Prompts the Biggest Solid Waste Cleanup Effort in History

Superstorm Sandy causes a tree to fall on a car
Earl Wilson for The NY Times

(Oct., 2012) By now, you’ve no doubt heard about how ‘Superstorm Sandy’ ravaged the east coast and continues to wreak havoc along the east coast and Midwest regions. The devastation has claimed lives and caused billions of dollars of property damage. A report by NBC News states the estimated $50 billion in property damage is most likely too low. So, what’s the plan for cleaning up the mess?

The closest comparison to Superstorm Sandy has got to be Hurricane Katrina from 2005. Katrina caused an estimated $46.6 billion in damage, and all estimates point to Sandy surpassing that amount once it’s all said and done. Sandy is the biggest tropical storm in history at 900 miles across, the cleanup effort will span multiple states—10 states have, as of this date, declared a state of emergency.

Justin Lane/European Pressphoto Agency. Via The NY Times

Today, the east coast is waking up to slightly improved weather conditions, but the rescue effort continues. The cleanup effort will most likely not even begin until rescue missions are exhausted, so many communities will remain in shambles through this week and probably next.

Sharon H. Kneiss of the National Waste and Recycling Association points out in a press release that local solid waste companies have emergency response plans in place to address critical situations like cleaning up the damage left by Sandy.

State and local emergency plans vary by locale, but in most cases, restrictions on truck weight limits and dumping of wreckage are loosened to help speed up the cleanup. There are so many hazards associated with natural disaster cleanups, so extreme caution should be used when aiding in the effort. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers some useful tips for safely cleaning up after natural disasters here.

remains of atlantic city boardwalkWhat's left from an Atlantic City boardwalk

If there’s any silver lining in a disaster of this proportion it’s that the massive cleanup effort may actually boost our nation’s GDP in the end. As money begins to flow into effected regions, it will help stimulate local economies, according to NBC News.

Another issue affecting businesses and residents in the wake of Sandy is the suspension of normal waste and recycling pickup services. According to Waste and Recycling News, New Jersey’s Incinerator Authority has suspended garbage collection until further notice.

Where will all the trash go? Local landfills are bound to be overloaded with rubble in the coming weeks. Just collecting and trucking away the debris is a massive and expensive undertaking in itself.

FEMA has about $3.6 billion in its disaster relief fund, according to The New York Times, and recovering from Superstorm Sandy will most likely drain every last penny from the fund.

If your property, home or business was damaged by Sandy, or if you’re involved in the cleanup effort, be sure to exercise extreme caution at all times. Hazards are everywhere you turn: downed power lines, mold-infested debris, flooded waters filled with dangerous chemicals and unstable buildings.

Victims can apply for FEMA federal aid by visiting or calling 1-800-621-FEMA.