New York City Council Introduces Legislation to Overhaul the Private Carting Industry

May 29, 2019

Environmental Justice, News, Transform Don't Trash NYC

Today, Council Member Antonio Reynoso (pictured speaking, above) joined New York Lawyers for the Public Interest and fellow New York City Council colleagues, Teamsters Local 813, and other environmental justice, small business, and safe streets advocates at a press conference at City Hall to announce the introduction of a bill to create a citywide commercial waste zoning system. The new policy will improve safety and cut pollution in a private carting industry responsible for over two dozen deaths while improving the sector’s transparency, accountability, and service to small businesses across the city.

Each year right now in New York City, more than 90 private sanitation companies handle more than three million tons of commercial waste – trash  generated by office buildings, restaurants, and other businesses. These companies service customers across the city – a single neighborhood may be serviced by more than 50 individual carting companies – resulting in collection routes that are long and circuitous, some with more than 1,000 stops. It all harms workers, the environment, and the broader public.

Companies pressure workers to complete these long routes in one shift, and deny them adequate training, compensation, and safely maintained trucks, resulting in 10-to-14 hour shifts, dangerous driving and frequent crashes. Between 2010 and the fall of 2018, the industry has been involved in 26 fatal crashes. One of the most heart-wrenching of these tragedies was the death of an off- the- books worker, Mouctar Diallo, and the company’s attempt to cover it up.

In addition to the industry’s direct human impact and rampant safety and labor violations, its current operations are shockingly inefficient and counterproductive to New York City’s environmental sustainability goals.

The industry’s thousands of diesel trucks – which are three times older than the Department of Sanitation’s (DSNY) fleet on average – pollute the air of New York City neighborhoods and contribute to climate change.  Currently, private sanitation trucks log 79,000 vehicle miles traveled (VMT) within the city per day, adding to up to 12 million unnecessary truck miles per year, according to DSNY estimates.

Additionally, these private sanitation companies’ recycle and compost less than one quarter  just 22% of what they collect and send the rest to landfills and incinerators.  When buried in landfills, WwWaste, particularly organic food waste, is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions when buried in landfills.

The inefficient industry also does not serve New York’s small businesses, which are charged 38% more for waste collection than large businesses,  and risk fines when carters miss pickups, and often cannot obtain affordable recycling and composting services.

A commercial waste zone system would comprehensively address the private carting industry’s egregious practices by requiring companies to comply with stringent safety, labor, and environmental standards in order to service waste zones.

The legislation introduced by Council Member Antonio Reynoso would authorize the City to create a commercial waste zone system. The system would divide the city into at least 20 zones with each zone serviced by one carter. Commercial carting companies would engage in a competitive bidding process, through an RFP conducted by DSNY for the right to operate within these zones. The RFP process would require bidding companies to comply with certain baseline standards. A number of other criteria would be weighted competitively, requiring companies to demonstrate how they can best meet the needs of a given zone, while raising environmental, labor, and safety standards.

Companies must deliver these benefits in a cost-efficient manner, with a predictable, transparent pricing schedule, and enforceable high customer service standards. This will ensure that small businesses aren’t price-gouged and that all services, including those such as organics collection, are offered to all companies regardless of size. DSNY estimates that this more efficient system will cut costs by 4%, which can be passed along to customers.

Those gathered at the press conference– Council Members, sanitation workers, union representatives, environmental advocates, and grassroots organizations– testified to the transformative effect that a waste zone system would have for the industry and New York City.

By confining designees to specific zones, routes will become significantly more efficient. More efficient routes will improve safety for workers and pedestrians by allowing haulers to work manageable hours in a safe and deliberate manner without having to rush to their next stop.

A 60-70% reduction to vehicle miles traveled will leading to drastically reduced greenhouse gas emissions and further improve pedestrian safety.

The DSNY’s regulatory authority will authorize the agency to enforce recycling laws, which will divert material from landfills and lead to further reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

The City will also be able to incentivize designated haulers to make major investments in low-emissions trucks, modern recycling, composting, and transfer station infrastructure, and extensive customer education. These improvements will create hundreds of new, green jobs throughout New York City.

Council Member Reynoso, advocates, neighborhood and grassroots groups, and workers have fought tirelessly to reform the private sanitation industry. A commercial waste zone system will finally deliver the comprehensive changes that this industry needs to live up to New York City’s progressive values.

The story was covered by Gothamist and WNYC:

City Council Bill Goes Further To Rein In ‘Bad Parts’ Of Private Carting Industry

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Protesters at a rally last year urging the city to revoke Sanitation Salvage’s license. Their license was later suspended, and eventually the company surrendered it. (Stephen Nessen / WNYC)

A new City Council proposal would dramatically reshape the city’s private trash collection industry in an effort to cut down on truck emissions and improve working conditions for employees.

Under the new bill, which is set to be introduced on Wednesday, the city would be divided into 20 commercial waste zones that are each served by one designated private carting company. Currently, there are no specific zones for the more than 90 private carters that collect trash from over 100,000 city businesses, leading to dangerously long routes, overworked employees and heavy pollution.

“There’s so many bad parts of this industry that need to be fixed,” Brooklyn Councilmember Antonio Reynoso, the bill’s main sponsor, told Gothamist/WNYC. “And this is one part of the many layers that we’re trying to address.”

The bill, which is co-sponsored by Speaker Corey Johnson, goes further than the long-promised reforms proposed by the city’s Sanitation Department last November. Under that plan, the city would be split into twenty zones that are served by three to five commercial carters. Each zone would have between 3,300 and 9,800 customers. The department has saidthat a nonexclusive zoning plan would maintain competition among private carting companies while decreasing truck traffic and inefficient routes.

Reynoso says that exclusive zones could decrease carting traffic by up to 70 percent, down from the current number of 79,000 vehicle miles traveled per day. Having one carter per zone would also help stabilize prices for businesses, according to Reynoso’s office, creating more predictable and reliable service.

Listen to Mara Silvers’ report on WNYC:

Both types of zoned systems have been highly contentious among representatives of the carting industry and businesses that support the current open-market concept.

“Either type of zone system would eliminate dozens of locally-owned and operated companies, as well as good-paying jobs while driving up prices to customers and reducing incentives for good service,” said Kendall Christiansen, the executive director of New Yorkers for Responsible Waste Management, a group that lobbies on behalf of private carters.

Reynoso’s office acknowledges that an exclusive zoning system would lead to the closure of some private companies, but said it did not expect to see an overall decrease in jobs, noting that the same amount of trash will need to be collected every day.

The idea of having one carter per zone has also received pushback from DSNY. In a statement, department spokeswoman Dina Montes said that the city’s plan of having three to five carters for each zone prevents a situation in which a zone is “vulnerable” to a single carting company that might not fulfill its duties.

“A non-exclusive system achieves very similar efficiency and emissions improvements compared to an exclusive system, while avoiding the large disruption to the market and customers that would come with having only one carter per zone,” said Montes.

Alternatively, Reynoso says that having one carter per zone will help the city be highly selective in selecting companies in the first place, following an intensive RFP process.

“The Sanitation Salvages of the world [are] doing everything the wrong way,” said Reynoso, referring to the private carter that surrendered its license last year following the death of one of its workers and a pedestrian within a six month time period. “There’s no way that a company like Sanitation Salvage wins an RFP in this process.”

Private carters could still have their licenses suspended or revoked for multiple infractions, said Reynoso, in which case the Department of Sanitation would temporarily take over the trash collection for a specific zone.

According to the bill language, contracts to carters will be based on many criteria, including the company’s history of complaints from businesses, plan to reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, rates for service, and past compliance with local, state, and federal labor and safety laws.

If awarded, a private carter’s contract with the city would last for ten years with the option to extend for two additional five-year terms. Companies would not be allowed to serve more than 15 commercial waste zones, and could subcontract with other private haulers if they are not equipped to serve an entire zone, which Reynoso said could also keep smaller carting companies in business.

“We’re not looking to get a Mom and Pop business that has five trucks, that is doing this work for a long time the right way — we want them to keep doing business in the city,” said Reynoso.

Such a drastic overhaul of the system would take years to put into place. Reynoso’s office estimates that, if passed, the zoned system would not be implemented until the end of 2023 or the beginning of 2024.

And first, the bill has to clear the council. Despite having support from a number of members and other labor and environmental groups, including Teamsters Local 813 and Transform Don’t Trash NYC Coalition, Reynoso accepts that the legislation will likely undergo many changes before coming up for a vote.

“We have a lot more work to do. It’s a rough draft,” said Reynoso. “But at the core of what we’re trying to do is radically change the way we do business in this, what I consider, overlooked and under regulated industry in the city of New York.”

Mara Silvers is an assistant producer at WNYC. You can follow her on Twitter at @mara_silvers.

Commercial Observer also covered the story:

City Council Introduces Commercial Trash Reform Legislation

Reynoso’s legislation calls for the New York City Department of Sanitation to split the city up into 20 or more zones, each of which will be serviced by just one waste hauler. Transform Don’t Trash, a coalition of progressive and labor groups that includes the Teamsters, the National Resources Defense Council and New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, has been pushing an exclusive zone scheme for the past few years. And after an investigative series from ProPublica detailed the cover-up of a worker’s death and the difficult labor conditions that workers face at private haulers, local politicians and city officials put the wheels in motion last year to reform the industry.

“A zoned system will make routes drastically more efficient—this means a reduction in vehicle miles traveled, meaning less greenhouse gas emissions and improved pedestrian safety,” Reynoso said in a statement. “In order to operate in one of these zones, companies must comply with stringent labor, safety, and environmental standards. A commercial waste zone system is a catch-all solution that will finally transform this industry for the sake of workers, communities, and the environment.”

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson also supports the bill, arguing in a statement that it would produce “tremendous benefits for the city. The zones will reduce the number of truck-miles traveled each night by private carters by over 50 percent and achieve reductions in greenhouse gas emissions of over 40 percent.”

The proposal from Reynoso stands in stark contrast to the Department of Sanitation’s commercial waste reform plan, which involves 20 zones served by three to five waste companies apiece. The city’s non-exclusive plan, released last year, has been discussed at public scoping hearings and analyzed in a draft environmental impact statement over the past six months. No carter would be allowed to operate in more than 15 zones, and up to 68 contracts would be awarded to carters across the five boroughs. DSNY Commissioner Kathryn Garcia—who’s currently on a leave of absence to run the New York City Housing Authoritytold Commercial Observer last year that the city policy would enable smaller carters to continue doing business by allowing multiple companies per zone.

“Our plan provides opportunities for a variety of private carters that are able to meet our high contract standards,” said DSNY spokeswoman Belinda Mager. “Plus, it does not leave the city vulnerable to a single large carting company that may fail in meeting its obligations or leave the market. Most importantly, customers overwhelmingly prefer a non-exclusive model, as they want the ability to shop around and fire their carter if their service needs are not met.”

Mager added that the DSNY plan would achieve the same goals as an exclusive zone system—reductions in truck emissions and better safety standards and training for workers.

Private haulers feel that the DSNY-backed effort would allow more trash companies to continue operating in the city than an exclusive plan. Commercial waste trade groups like New Yorkers for Responsible Waste Management oppose both exclusive and non-exclusive zones in favor of the current, open system, but they view the exclusive plan as a much bigger threat.

Tom Toscano, the CEO of Mr. T Carting and a vocal opponent of the city’s plan, recently told trade newsletter Waste Dive, “Exclusive is like being hit in the head with a bat and non-exclusive is like being punched in the stomach. If I’m forced to choose between the two, I guess I’d take the punch in the stomach.” Partnership for NYC CEO Kathryn Wylde, who represents a broad swath of local businesses and real estate interests, also came out against an exclusive system last week in an interview with Crain’s New York Business.

Meanwhile, the Real Estate Board of New York has long opposed any kind of commercial waste zone proposal on the grounds that trash pickup costs for landlords would increase, while owners would have fewer carter options to choose from.

“Exclusive waste zones would take away the ability of New York City businesses to obtain the high quality waste removal needed to keep New York streets and offices clean,” REBNY President John Banks said in a statement. “That’s why this approach was rejected by the de Blasio Administration in the first place. Sensible reforms must empower owners to select the highest quality service providers to ensure that  our buildings remain places where people want to live, work, and visit.”

Larger waste companies stand to benefit significantly under an exclusive zone system because they are more likely to score major hauling contracts. Despite widespread opposition to zones from most private carters, city’s two largest operators—Action Carting and Waste Connections—have both come out in favor of the exclusive plan in public testimony and interviews.

“The single model produces the greatest reduction in [vehicle miles traveled], safer operations, the highest potential for recycling, clearest accountability, easiest integration with other City services, and fair pricing,” testified Ron Bergamini, the CEO of Action Environmental Group, at a March public hearing on the DSNY proposal. “The alternative, a multiple model, would compromise all of these goals. This option seems no better than today’s while essentially creating 20 mini New York Cities.”

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