Deal Reached to Transform Commercial Waste Collection to Protect Workers, Communities, and Environment

October 10, 2019

Environmental Justice, News, Transform Don't Trash NYC

Today the New York City Council announced amended legislation negotiated with the Transform Don’t Trash NYC coalition to overhaul the commercial sanitation industry through commercial waste zones. The updated commercial waste zone legislation includes several new provisions to reduce pollution, protect environmental justice communities, improve jobs, and advance safety.

Politico city hall reporter Danielle Muoio covered the story:

An effort to fundamentally change how commercial waste is picked up and processed in New York City may be heading toward approval with newly drafted legislation that is set to be released Thursday.

The latest bill, details of which were described to POLITICO, represents an apparent deal between labor groups, some industry players, the City Council and the mayor’s office in a fight that has played out in the streets and the chambers of City Hall for six years. If passed, the measure represents the most significant reform of the city’s commercial waste industry since a city-led commission began removing organized crime from the industry in the 1990s.

Council Member Antonio Reynoso, chairman of the Committee on Sanitation and Solid Waste, told POLITICO the latest version includes several key changes from the original bill floated earlier this year. It advances what is known as a non-exclusive zoning model — dividing the city into sections in which a maximum of three waste companies can operate — and creates incentives to switch to more sustainable vehicles and haul trash to more reputable waste transfer stations. There are also provisions to increase public safety training requirements for sanitation workers and authorize the Department of Sanitation to set a minimum rate waste haulers can charge customers.

“Over the past six years, I have worked closely and diligently with all stakeholders — environmental, labor, and transportation advocates, business owners, and private carting companies — to craft a bill that both meets our goals and addresses our City’s waste management needs,” Reynoso said in a statement provided to POLITICO. “I am proud of the resulting piece of legislation and am confident that the system’s implementation will improve the industry for workers while making our city safer and more sustainable for current residents and generations to come.”

The overall intent of the bill is to end the private waste industry’s current open-market system, where 50 to 90 different carters can service a single neighborhood — leading many waste trucks to traverse all five boroughs in one night. The long, tiresome routes can take 12 hours to complete and pose serious safety risks for workers and residents. Private carters were involved in 26 fatal crashes between 2010 and the fall of 2018. There are also environmental implications from the continuous vehicle exhaust coming from the trucks.

The zoning system limits how many waste companies can service parts of the city, reducing congestion and simplifying routes for workers. Waste companies will have to apply to service a single zone, giving the city greater authority to set additional labor and recycling standards.

Although the de Blasio administration and City Council have agreed waste reform is needed, they have been at odds over the best way to pursue change.

The City Council, at the urging of environmental advocates and the Teamsters who represent many of the drivers, had originally pursued an exclusive model where only one waste hauler would service a zone. The argument for exclusive zoning — which is used by West Coast cities like Los Angeles and San Jose, Calif. — had been that it would achieve the best results when it came to improving labor, environmental and safety standards.

But the exclusive zoning mode faced pushback from business groups, most notably the Real Estate Board of New York, which raised concerns over the implications of eliminating competition among carters. The Department of Sanitation, which first floated the notion of exclusive zoning in 2016 eventually proposed a less stringent model and pitched a system where three to five carters would service a single zone.

The latest draft seeks to strike a compromise key organizations can support — preserving competition while increasing safety and environmental provisions.

The draft mandates sanitation workers undergo public safety training, a move aimed at reducing potentially fatal crashes that have plagued the industry’s record.

Companies will also be more likely to win a contract if they have timelines for reducing truck emissions and agree to use waste transfer stations with a better reputation for sustainable practices. Using transfer stations that have violations from the city, state or federal level will be viewed poorly in the competitive solicitation process.

“This commercial waste reform agreement was a generation in the making,” Eddie Bautista, executive director of the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance, said in a statement. “Environmental justice communities… have sought relief from a chaotic and unjust commercial waste system for 30 years. Substantial progress has been made.”

The bill also includes a provision that gives the Department of Sanitation the authority to set a “rate floor,” or the minimum amount haulers could charge for waste collection.

The addition is designed to prevent a “race to the bottom” where companies could underpay workers or cut corners in other ways to keep rates artificially low, Reynoso said.

“Private sanitation workers and the Transform Don’t Trash NYC coalition fought for years to reform the commercial waste system, and today we can see light at the end of the tunnel,” Sean Campbell, President of Teamsters Local 813, said in a statement. “We negotiated this framework to end the race to the bottom that holds down wages and endangers workers of color. Going forward, companies that provide good jobs will thrive and those that mistreat workers will not.”

The bill also comes with a provision the Real Estate Board of New York and hospitals had lobbied for — the option for buildings with roll-off container systems to keep their hauler. There are roughly 500 commercial properties that have such systems and they require specialized equipment and servicing. The bill plans to achieve this by creating three to five citywide contracts for containerized pickup.

Reynoso emphasized that the version of the bill being released on Thursday is a draft, providing an opportunity for groups to weigh in on the changes before it’s codified into an updated version that will go for a final vote.

The bill must be voted out of the Sanitation Committee before it goes before the full Council. A committee hearing hasn’t been scheduled yet, but Reynoso said the Council is working on a timeline to have the bill passed at the Oct. 30 stated meeting.

“We have been working hard and have made significant progress on this bill because we believe that implementing commercial waste zones will benefit all New Yorkers,” City Council Speaker Corey Johnson said in a statement. “Our goal with this policy is cleaner air, safer streets, and better customer service to businesses throughout the City.”

The Transform Don’t Trash NYC campaign, of which NYLPI is a member, launched in 2013, calling on the city to adopt commercial waste zones and address the rampant abuses of the private carting industry.

Today, over 90 private carting companies operate throughout the city, creating needless pollution and dangerous truck traffic. One block can see over a hundred private garbage trucks in a single night, rushing to complete their routes. Since 2010, the private sanitation industry has killed over two dozen New Yorkers in traffic crashes. Private carters recycle little of what they collect, and dump most of the trash at waste transfer stations in three New York City communities of color. Media investigations have found labor abuses including wage theft, extremely long shifts, dangerous working conditions, and rampant injuries.

The legislation will create a competitive bid to assign private carters to collect waste in each commercial district, cutting private garbage truck traffic by more than half across the city. Private carters will need to meet baseline standards to be eligible for a zone, and their proposals will be judged based on their plans to improve safety, recycling, pollution, and job quality. The revised bill caps the number of private carters in any zone at three. The coalition supported the amended bill because it adds new worker protections, a rate floor, standards at waste facilities, and stronger requirements for low polluting waste trucks. The Commercial Waste Zones Bill has 25 sponsors, including lead sponsor Council Member Antonio Reynoso and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson.

“Private sanitation workers and the Transform Don’t Trash NYC coalition fought for years to reform the commercial waste system, and today we can see light at the end of the tunnel,” said Sean Campbell, President of Teamsters Local 813. “We negotiated this framework to end the race to the bottom that holds down wages and endangers workers of color. Going forward, companies that provide good jobs will thrive and those that mistreat workers will not. The City Council needs to pass this legislation so we can finally start creating good jobs in recycling and composting that will support New York City families.”

“This commercial waste reform agreement was a generation in the making,” said Eddie Bautista, Executive Director of the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance. “Environmental justice communities – neighborhoods like North Brooklyn, South Bronx, Southeast Queens, and Sunset Park long condemned to handle over 75% of NYC’s waste – have sought relief from a chaotic and unjust commercial waste system for 30 years. These communities (which many of the waste workers exploited by the current system also call home) have fought long and hard for a waste management system that is more efficient and more just. Substantial progress has been made, from the Solid Waste Management Plan to the Waste Equity law to today’s commercial waste zone agreement – none of which would have been possible without leadership from the City Council.”

“We are excited to see the commercial waste zones bill moving closer to passage,” said Maritza Silva-Farrell, Executive Director of ALIGN. “ALIGN and our Transform Don’t Trash NYC coalition have fought for the last six years to ensure we have a policy that reforms the Wild West like private carting industry. This marks a major turning point for New York City after years of harming communities, workers, and the environment. We are eager to work together for this change that will finally protect our most polluted neighborhoods, ensure that sanitation workers are no longer treated like trash, that pedestrians and cyclists are safe, and that small businesses are only paying their fair share, while helping meet NYC’s 2030 zero waste goal.”

“After six years of studies, hearings, stakeholder meetings and legislative drafting, our broad-based Transform Don’t Trash NYC coalition has reached conceptual agreement with the City Council leadership on legislation that, if enacted as proposed, would transform the way commercial waste is collected across every city neighborhood,” said Eric A. Goldstein, NYC Environment Director at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Thanks to Councilmember Reynoso and Speaker Johnson, this landmark bill, if enacted as proposed, will slash garbage truck traffic, cut air pollution, improve pedestrian safety and ensure fairness and respect for private waste company workers.”

“We are thrilled to be even closer to achieving the commercial waste industry reforms our city urgently needs,” said Rachel Spector, Director of Environmental Justice at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest. “Our Commercial Waste Zones plan will decrease greenhouse gas emissions, relieve burdens in environmental justice communities, raise labor standards in the industry, and improve street safety. We look forward to working with Council Member Reynoso, the Speaker and DSNY to pass Intro 1574.”

NYLPI Senior Attorney for Environmental Justice Melissa Iachan was quoted in a 5,000-word investigative story by Waste Dive, which you can read here. The publication also quoted Melissa extensively in a story on the updated version of the bill on October 11:

New York commercial waste zone plan comes into focus with new draft

The latest bill language includes up to three companies per zone, future requirements for zero-emission trucks and new labor provisions. Supporters hope to pass it in a Oct. 30 council vote.

After months of speculation, supporters of New York’s commercial waste zone plan have struck a deal over how to proceed with a plan to reshape the local market.

Council Member Antonio Reynoso and members of the pro-zoning Transform Don’t Trash Coalition (TDT) previewed the draft language yesterday morning in a Politico article, declaring a united front on how to move past the exclusive model they’ve long championed. Breaking a prolonged (yet cordial) stalemate with Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration, the new language calls for a non-exclusive model similar to what the city has supported since last year.

“We are pleased to have worked with Council on this bill to bring needed reform to the industry,” DSNY Director of Communications Belinda Mager said in a statement. “We look forward to the upcoming vote on this bill and moving forward with implementation.”

The plan, which will have significant implications for decades to come, could be up for a decisive set of New York City Council votes as soon as this month.

Key changes

While the 55-page draft contains plenty of new details — covering reporting requirements, micro-hauler vehicles, transition planning and much more — its most notable updates fall into three categories.

Competition and customer service

These foundational elements have drawn the most attention and generated significant discussion among zoning supporters. Reynoso believes the changes strike a balance between what advocates, DSNY and business groups want.

  • Each franchise zone could now have up to three contractors (as opposed to one), though it’s unclear how many will end up in each zone. Like in prior iterations, no company could be awarded contracts for more than 15 of the city’s 20 expected zones.
  • A new provision would create up to five citywide contracts for servicing containers of 10 cubic yards or more. This will allow hospitals and large commercial real estate owners to potentially keep using the same company across multiple locations, regardless of zone boundaries. Sources indicate these contracts could be particularly attractive for new market entrants as compared to manual collection.
  • In an effort to recognize local companies, language has been added to consider existing business in geographic areas. Because bidders’ local legal and regulatory histories will be reviewed, this may help even the playing field against outside bidders with no record by nature of being new to the market.

“If you have a history of doing work in the city, and it’s good work and you have a lot of clients, then we want to give you a shot at that zone,” Reynoso told Waste Dive, while noting newcomers are still welcome. “If they’re a great company and they come from another place there’s no reason why we shouldn’t allow them to do work here.”


The potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, both from vehicles and waste disposal, has been another core message in the zoning campaign. While an exclusive system was seen as more favorable toward those aims, supporters have pivoted to what they say is a workable non-exclusive update with tighter fleet requirements.

“Part of why I was big supporter of exclusive zones was I wanted to limit pollution, and this green truck inventive really plays to that,” said Reynoso.

  • The new draft calls for bidders to submit plans to convert at least 50% of their fleets to “zero emissions vehicles” (as defined by California standards) by 2030. Any bids on RFPs released after that date would be expected to have a plan for 100% conversion by 2040.
  • Bidders are still asked to submit plans for reducing emissions and air pollution through investments in processing infrastructure for recyclables and organics, but this is now a separate category that no longer includes fleet investment.
  • Companies will also be asked to specify intended destinations for the materials they collect, with the city giving special consideration to facilities’ proximity and history of regulatory compliance. This latter component has been described as an environmental justice mechanism for neighborhoods that have high concentrations of waste and recycling facilities, a growing regulatory focus in New York.

“By requiring that the transfer station be compliant with local, state and federal laws designed to protect public health and safety, and worker safety, we will be giving more of an advantage to haulers who use better acting, more sustainable and more equitably-sited facilities,” Melissa Iachan, senior staff attorney with New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, told Waste Dive.


Ensuring positive conditions for local commercial waste workers has been a focal point for zoning supporters, especially in light of a 2018 ProPublica investigation. New language in the bill reflects comments by the Teamsters and others about how to strengthen labor standards under the plan.

“We negotiated this framework to end the race to the bottom that holds down wages and endangers workers of color,” said Sean Campbell, president of Teamsters Local 813, in a statement. “Going forward, companies that provide good jobs will thrive and those that mistreat workers will not.”

  • The city’s Business Integrity Commission currently regulates a rate cap, but it has never set a minimum rate. Companies and unions alike say this can incentivize competition at the expense of wages and service standards. New language gives the DSNY commissioner authority to set minimum rates “based upon a fair and reasonable return to the awardee” and other factors.
  • The original bill called for mandatory safety training, but labor interests argued that it was not sufficiently comprehensive because it allowed room for customization by employers. The new draft goes into greater detail about required training and creates a uniform certification for employees that will be transferrable.
  • In a nod to the likely potential for industry consolidation, which some believe could ramp up as soon as next year, council staff also told stakeholders additional language is forthcoming to “mandate employee retention if a carting company goes through a merger or acquisition.”

Next steps

Many of the debate’s key stakeholders are still trying to gauge what these changes mean for them. Multiple companies — including Action Environmental, Waste Connections and Waste Management — either said they were still reviewing the language or didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Others, like Laborers Local 108, have expressed misgivings. Secretary Treasurer Mike Hellstrom said he would prefer to see a specific price floor written into the bill, rather than left to the city’s discretion, and concluded “there’s still much to be discussed.”

A zoning opposition group, which represents smaller companies, also responded with skepticism.

“If its sponsors believe it’s so great, the Council should immediately agree to at least one round of public hearings before adopting something that could lead to chaos, uncertainty and great risk that the basic job itself — picking up 12,000 tons of waste and recyclables every night – won’t get done as even more companies exit the industry,” said Kendall Christiansen, executive director of New Yorkers for Responsible Waste Management, in a statement. “Continuous improvement would make a difference sooner, better and cheaper than this massively complex — and misguided effort.”

Reynoso dismissed that request, saying the bill already had its one required hearing on June 27.

“No one that wants an extra meeting wants it to have a meaningful conversation about waste zoning,” Reynoso said.

Comments are being accepted on the draft until Oct. 16. Reynoso anticipates potentially making further changes before introducing amended legislation for a vote in the sanitation committee, which he chairs. Supporters hope the final bill will be ready for a vote by the full council on Oct. 30.

Meanwhile, Gothamist also ran a story on the updated bill:

City Council Abandons Push For Exclusive Waste Zones In Commercial Waste Compromise

By Jake Offenhartz // October 11, 2019


Efforts to overhaul New York City’s private waste collection system are poised to move forward under a new compromise that would amend a far-reaching proposal to establish new commercial waste zones.

The updated draft, which has not yet been released publicly, addresses concerns raised by business groups and private collectors in response to Councilman Antonio Reynoso’s bill to rein in the troubled industry. As part of the agreement reached between lawmakers and key stakeholders, each of the 20 zones would be served by up to three carters, rather than a single company, as initially proposed.

Trade groups such as the Real Estate Board of New York have long opposed exclusive waste zones, arguing that the open-market approach reduces competition and drives up prices. Some private haulers have also lobbied aggressively to kill the reform effort.

Currently, there are no specific zones for the nearly 100 private carters that collect trash from city businesses, contributing to excessive pollution, overworked employees, and rampant traffic violence. In the last decade, more than two dozen New Yorkers have been killed in crashes involving private carters.

In one recent case, a driver with the since-shuttered Sanitation Salvage was found to have killed two people on city streets—one of whom was a fellow worker, who he initially claimed was a random person who hopped on his truck.

Cities such as San Francisco and Los Angeles currently grant waste haulers access to exclusive zones.

The proposed zoning framework allows the city to award contracts to the most responsible carters based on a range of factors, including a company’s safety record and commitment to reducing emissions, according to a draft of the proposal shared with Gothamist.

“This policy will make our air cleaner, our streets safer, and provide better customer service to businesses throughout the City,” City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who co-sponsored the legislation, said in a statement. “We look forward to continued engagement with stakeholders and to receiving feedback on the proposal.”

The updated proposal has received the endorsement of the Teamsters, which represents many private sanitation workers, as well as a host of environmental groups. They say the zones will cut private garbage truck traffic by more than half across the city.

The reforms are also aimed at reducing the industry’s dependence on waste transfer stations, the largely unregulated facilities that expose nearby residents to diesel fuel pollutants and higher rates of asthma. Advocates have long noted that those facilities are predominantly located in low-income communities and communities of color.

While the city has made progress in solid waste and recycling for public hauling, the commercial waste industry has increased the amount of trash it disposes at these stations by 35 percent since 2015—or 500,000 tons of trash annually, according to a new report.

Under the proposed plan, the city would now take into account a carter’s use of transfer stations and its history of compliance with public health laws when licensing the zones.

“This commercial waste reform agreement was a generation in the making,” said Eddie Bautista, executive director of the NYC Environmental Justice Alliance. “Environmental justice communities—neighborhoods like North Brooklyn, South Bronx, Southeast Queens, and Sunset Park long condemned to handle over 75% of NYC’s waste—have sought relief from a chaotic and unjust commercial waste system for 30 years.”

The Department of Sanitation will also be authorized to set a wage floor for trash pickup, in an effort to avoid a “race to the bottom,” Reynoso told Politico, which first reported the news. Workers will be required to undergo additional safety training as well.

The new bill also allows for three to five licensed carters in each zone to pick up the roll-away dumpsters used by some buildings, known as “containerized waste.” The provision will not guarantee that those buildings can keep their current haulers—as some business groups had demanded—but will make it more likely, according to a City Council spokesperson.

A representative for REBNY said the interest group was waiting to see a full copy of the bill before confirming their support.

“REBNY has long advocated for reform within this industry to improve worker safety and reduce emissions while ensuring there is robust competition needed to ensure high quality customer service,” said Zachary Steinberg, vice president of the group. “We look forward to reviewing the amended version of this legislation.”

The bill is expected to come before the City Council for a vote by the end of the month.

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