February 22, 2019

City study shows large traffic and pollution reductions under exclusive waste zoning

Reforms will also nearly double recycling rates and create green jobs

NEW YORK, NY – A new study by the New York City Department of Sanitation shows that the City can significantly reduce dangerous and polluting garbage truck traffic by designating one private carter to collect commercial waste in each part of the city. Environmental, safe streets, and labor organizations today called on the City Council to enact such an “exclusive” system when it takes up legislation to create a commercial waste zone system in the coming months.

Unlike residential trash, which is collected by the New York City Sanitation Department, the city’s commercial trash is picked up by private waste haulers whose trucks race through city streets in all five boroughs every night, barreling along lengthy, irrational routes that result in unnecessary diesel air pollution as well as pedestrian and worker injuries or deaths.

Under the new commercial waste zone system, which has been implemented in leading green cities, like San Francisco and Seattle, the Department of Sanitation will select private carters to collect trash from businesses in 20 zones across the city, through a competitive bidding process. The department originally proposed a non-exclusive system, with 3 to 5 carters per zone, but this new analysis points to the opportunity to further reduce dangerously long routes, toxic diesel pollutants, and greenhouse gas emissions with just one carter responsible for each zone.

The private carting industry has had dozens of fatal crashes in recent years. A 2018 report by the Transform Don’t Trash NYC coalition found that the number of crashes in the industry had doubled over the previous two years.

The industry also relies on older, more polluting trucks. A recent study by New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer found that private carting trucks, on average, are much older than city sanitation vehicles, many having been on the road 20 years or longer.

The Department of Sanitation study looked at the difference between implementing an exclusive system versus a non-exclusive system in three case study sections of the city. In Midtown Manhattan, the number of vehicle miles traveled was 52% lower under an exclusive system than under a non-exclusive system. In Flatbush Nostrand Junction, Brooklyn, and College Point, Queens, the reduced mileage was 30% and 15%, respectively. The reduced mileage would also lower the costs of fuel and vehicle maintenance, savings that can be passed on to customers.

A commercial waste zone system would have additional benefits for workers. The policy would allow the City to hold carters to high workplace safety standards. The City study found that it would result in an overall increase of sanitation industry employment as carters expand their recycling and composting services.

The study released today also found that recycling rates would nearly double with a commercial waste zone system. The City can also use the commercial waste zone platform to achieve further waste reduction through the promotion of local recyclers, food rescue groups, small-scale organic waste processors, many of whom are minority- and woman-owned business enterprises (MWBEs), creating hundreds more high quality, green jobs that can be targeted to disadvantaged communities as cities, like Oakland and Los Angeles have demonstrated.

“The study put forward by the city confirms what our coalition has been saying all along – an exclusive zone system is the most effective way to transform an unregulated industry. Exclusive zones would guarantee that our communities breathe cleaner air, reduce greenhouse emissions, make our streets safer with fewer trucks on the streets, and protect the safety and dignity of private sanitation workers. We will continue to work with City Council to adopt exclusive zone legislation that puts workers and communities first and holds private haulers accountable,” said Maritza Silva-Farrell, executive director at ALIGN.

“This study confirms that a zone system – particularly an exclusive zone system – will achieve major improvements in safety and efficiency and create an opportunity to transform thousands of dangerous, low-paying jobs into high-quality green jobs in communities where they are most needed.  Even with a modest increase in commercial recycling and composting services, this study finds a net gain in employment as truck routes become far more efficient and safe. By adding true zero-waste programs including waste reduction, composting, and local re-use and recycling services, the City can create hundreds more good local jobs, and tackle our massive, environmentally destructive commercial waste problem,” said Justin Wood of New York Lawyers for the Public Interest.

“NYC-EJA is heartened by early findings that the environmental justice benefits alone of implementing an exclusive zoning system include reduced asthma rates, vehicular deaths, noise pollution, and damaged roads – alongside a reduction in GHG emissions, helping abate the devastating impacts that foremost threaten people on the frontlines of climate change impact. We continue to hope the shift to commercial waste zones will finally provide higher labor standards and protections in this wildly dangerous profession that disproportionately exploits young men of color – and make it a bit more on par with DSNY’s own compensation for residential waste carters,” said Eddie Bautista, Executive Director of the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance.

“As we have said all along, if the City limits one hauler to each waste zone, we will get the biggest benefits for New Yorkers. The commercial waste industry has been stuck in the dark ages for too long. Private sanitation workers are ready to be treated like the professionals they are and to reduce pollution, increase recycling, and be part of the safe streets solution. We can create jobs and raise wages and working conditions at the same time,” said Sean Campbell, President of Teamsters Local 813.

“On first review, today’s new analysis confirms what we have long-believed — commercial waste zones will slash truck traffic and diesel pollution in neighborhoods across New York City, help boost recycling and composting, and increase worker safety and the number of good jobs for workers throughout the waste industry, “ said Eric A. Goldstein, New York City Environment Director at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“The Department of Sanitation’s own research shows that exclusive zones will lead to fewer vehicle miles traveled by carters across the city, meaning our streets would be safer for pedestrians, bicyclists, and drivers alike. Passing a non-exclusive zone policy despite these findings would be nothing more than a gift to private carting companies — an industry responsible for at least 26 deaths since since 2014 — paid for with the lives of regular New Yorkers,” said Marco Conner, Deputy Director of Transportation Alternatives.