New York City is renowned as a metropolis where diverse small businesses thrive in the shadow of icons like the Empire State Building. The city’s nearly 200,000 small businesses are essential to the city’s economy and account for much of its economic growth in recent years.

Nonetheless, these diverse and innovative businesses are still obligated to use an inefficient and antiquated system for managing the waste and recyclable materials that they generate through their day-to-day operations.

In New York City, individual businesses have to hire one of the hundreds of private hauling companies that the city has licensed to handle commercial waste. Every night, thousands of commercial garbage trucks from these companies crisscross New York City’s streets collecting garbage and recyclables with great inefficiency and little accountability.

As detailed in Transform Don’t Trash NYC’s previous report, Dirty, Wasteful, and Unsustainable, this system undermines our collective efforts to build a more sustainable, safer, and more just city. The private waste industry recycles far too little (only about 25% of material collected), unfairly burdens a few low-income communities and communities of color with pollution, and erodes the wages, benefits, and working conditions of the hard-working men and women who collect and process millions of tons of commercial waste each year.

Our current research finds that the commercial waste system also fails many of the businesses, in particular small businesses, that are required to pay for and utilize it. In interviews with more than 500 business owners conducted for this report, one theme became clear: the commercial carting industry needs to change. Despite a major overhaul two decades ago, intended to eradicate the organized crime associated with the industry, standards to ensure that private haulers process waste sustainably, transparently, and at a fair price are greatly lacking.

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