New Yorkers Rally for Sanitation Reforms ahead of City Council Hearing

June 27, 2019

Environmental Justice, News, Transform Don't Trash NYC

A diverse coalition of New Yorkers rallied alongside City Council members this morning for a bill to create a citywide commercial waste zone system. The new policy will improve safety and cut pollution in a private trash hauling industry responsible for over two dozen deaths, while improving the sector’s transparency, accountability, and service to small businesses.

The City Hall rally included sanitation workers and environmental justice, safe streets, and small business advocates, who will also testify at a City Council hearing on the waste zone legislation today.

The hearing comes on the heels of Tuesday’s report showing the reforms would save huge amounts of greenhouse gas emissions for New York.

In New York City, more than 90 private sanitation companies handle commercial waste generated by office buildings, restaurants, and other businesses. Each garbage truck can 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. The chaotic system 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 14-to-16 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.

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 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 of what they collect and send the rest to landfills and incinerators.  Waste, particularly organic food waste, is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions when buried in landfills. The burden of this waste falls hardest on three communities of color – the South Bronx, North Brooklyn, and Southeast Queens – where the majority of waste transfer stations are located.

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

A commercial waste zone system will 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 system will divide the city into at least 20 zones with each zone serviced by one carter. Commercial carting companies will be selected by DSNY through a competitive bidding process that sets baseline standards and judges which carter can cost-effectively meet the needs of a given zone, while raising environmental, labor, and safety standards. Commercial customers will be protected with a predictable, transparent pricing schedule and enforceable customer service standards.

By assigning designated companies to specific zones, routes will become significantly more efficient. Shorter and denser 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 in vehicle miles traveled will lead to drastically reduced greenhouse gas emissions and further improve pedestrian safety.

The City will also be able to incentivize designated haulers to make critical 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.

Following today’s hearing, the waste zone legislation will be one step closer to a vote and ushering in a new day for New York’s commercial sanitation industry.


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