May 1, 2015

by David Giambusso
Capital New York

When city leaders and policy advocates take up the issue of sustainability in New York’s commercial trash industry today, they will not be debating a bill or a resolution, but looking for a way to fundamentally change the city’s private carting industry.

Commercial carters collect trash and recycling for most of New York’s non-residential customers, almost twice as much as the city Department of Sanitation. The breakneck operation occurs every night and involves hundreds of trucks rolling through the city tipping their loads at dozens of transfer stations with varying degrees of repute. A hearing of the sanitation committee today will officially open the City Hall debate on a system that many see as a crisis.

A report issued last week by the advocacy group Transform Don’t Trash NYC painted the industry as grossly inefficient, with upwards of 20 trucks visiting the same city block each night to serve different customers. Recycling rates, in some cases, are nine and 10 percent from an industry that collects as much as 15,000 tons of trash a day. Everything not recycled is shipped to a landfill.

The group, a coalition of labor and advocacy groups, argued that systemic change in the industry is long overdue and they are not alone in their thinking.

“There’s no way we’re going to stay with that system for the next 100 years, for the next fifty years. We shouldn’t stay with that system for the next year,” said Antonio Reynoso, chair of the City Council Committee on Sanitation.

Reynoso recently took a night-time tour of the private industry’s operations, following trucks and observing transfer stations.

“I was seeing what I consider an antiquated, very primitive system to transport trash,” he said in an interview with Capital. “I think it’s ridiculous that we would accept that standard in New York City.”

Reynoso and trash advocates say the system is beset with abuses ranging from poor worker conditions, poor safety conditions for residents and anemic recycling rates.

And while there’s no specific bill being discussed today, one overarching issue will hang over testimony from Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia, advocates and industry representatives: franchising.

The process would establish commercial zones in New York City and private carters would be awarded contracts by the city to operate in the zones, exclusively. This would, in theory, eliminate overlapping routes, truck traffic and hundreds of miles driven each night by haulers.

The system will soon be enacted in Los Angeles after a push by Mayor Eric Garcetti.

“We believe that this new model of providing solid waste management services will move the City to 90 percent waste diversion recycling by the year 2025, and further our commitment to environmental stewardship,” said Enrique C. Zaldivar, L.A.’s sanitation director in a statement to Capital. “In addition, the effort will lead the way to improved air quality by reducing air emissions through clean fuel conversion, while improving routing efficiency.”

A 90 percent reduction in waste is precisely what Mayor Bill de Blasio called for in his recently released OneNYC plan.

The administration committed only to conducting a study of commercial zones, though, and the plan gives no timeline for completion.

The private industry says the concept will have a chilling effect on free enterprise in New York City.

“We’re Americans. We tend to like to have a choice when we procure a service,” said Steve Changaris, who manages the New York chapter of the National Waste and Recycling Association, a trade group. “There’s a robustness, there’s a vitality to the private sector. ”

Changaris said giving thousands of commercial customers a choice of whom they contract for their trash keeps the industry efficient and innovative.

“You can’t work at that breakneck speed and push all the time,” he said. “You have to see that you’re efficient and competitive.”

Changaris also said the industry wished to work on a solution with the city that improved recycling and safety while preserving the open market that exists now.

“We all work in the same area. We have to work in it together,” Changaris said.

Reynoso is not advocating for a commercial franchising system yet. He said he welcomes any solutions that would ameliorate current conditions.

“It’s going to be a partnership,” he said. “I want to hear everything. I want to know what it’s like. I want to start getting to work.”

The 10 a.m. hearing will be preceded by a 9:30 a.m. rally at City Hall protesting conditions in the private carting industry.

To read the full article, visit the Captial New York website.

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