Sanitation workers, environmentalists, safe streets activists and small business owners came together yesterday to testify at a public hearing held by the City of New York Department of Sanitation (DSNY) about problems in the private carting industry and needed reforms.
The hearing comes as the city moves forward with its commercial waste franchise plan, which aims to reduce truck traffic by assigning carters to zones throughout the city. Advocates want to maximize the benefits of the commercial waste zone system by making each zone “exclusive” to one carter. A recent study by DSNY found that exclusive commercial waste zones would reduce private garbage truck traffic by 60 percent across the city and result in the lowest costs for commercial garbage collection.
“This study confirms that a zone system—particularly an exclusive zone system—will achieve major improvements in safety and efficiency, and create an opportunity to transform thousands of dangerous, low-paying jobs into high-quality green jobs in communities where they are most needed,” said Justin Wood of New York Lawyers for the Public Interest in a statement. “Even with a modest increase in commercial recycling and composting services, this study finds a net gain in employment as truck routes become far more efficient and safe. By adding true zero waste programs including waste reduction, composting and local reuse and recycling services, the city can create hundreds more good local jobs, and tackle our massive, environmentally destructive commercial waste problem.”
The private carting industry stands in stark contrast to the city’s own sanitation fleet, which is responsible for residential waste. The commercial waste carters—nearly 100 companies—crisscross the city every night with long, inefficient routes collecting trash from businesses. According to a press release by Transform Don’t Trash NYC, the industry is plagued by companies with poor working conditions, polluting trucks, low recycling rates and a high number of fatal crashes, and most of the industry’s trash facilities are located in communities of color.
Under the new commercial waste zone system, which has been implemented in other cities like San Francisco and Seattle, DSNY will select private carters to collect trash from businesses in 20 zones across the city through a competitive bidding process. In awarding zones to each carter, DSNY will favor carters with low rates, good working conditions, robust safety programs and plans to boost recycling and composting rates.
DSNY originally proposed a non-exclusive system, with three to five carters per zone, but advocates are pointing to the department’s own recent study to show that limiting one carter to each zone will further reduce dangerously long routes, toxic diesel pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions.
“After decades of declining wages, traffic fatalities and stagnant recycling rates, New York City has the opportunity to transform the commercial waste industry. Now is the time for bold reforms,” said Sean Campbell, president of Teamsters Local 813, in a statement. “When the City Council passes legislation to create this new system, it should be an exclusive zone system with strong protections for the workers and communities who have been harmed by this industry.”
Exclusive zones will also cut industrywide costs by 4 percent, savings that can go to lower collection rates for small businesses and investments in workers and green technology. The DSNY study also found that improving safety and recycling without waste zones—which some private carters have argued for—would actually result in a 3 percent cost increase.
A second public hearing will be held on Thursday. The City Council is expected to take up legislation this spring to implement the commercial waste zone reform.