There’s a Big Fight Brewing in the City Council Over Trash Carting Reforms

The council votes tomorrow on a bill to distribute garbage truck traffic more fairly. A more contentious battle over the private trash carting industry looms ahead.

The density of private waste collection routes today (left), and in a hypothetical zoned system (right). Image: DSNY
The density of private waste collection routes today (left), and in a hypothetical zoned system (right). Image: DSNY

Tomorrow, the City Council will vote on a bill to distribute garbage truck traffic more fairly across different neighborhoods. That legislation, which has languished for nearly a decade, is expected to pass. A more contentious battle over the private trash carting industry will follow later this summer, when the city releases its plan to institute “zone-based” commercial waste collection.

The bill on the agenda tomorrow, Intro 157, is the newest version of legislation to cap the amount of waste delivered to transfer stations in the South Bronx, north Brooklyn, and southeast Queens. About 75 percent of the city’s trash is processed in those three neighborhoods, burdening low-income communities of color with a disproportionate share of garbage truck traffic. The bill stipulates that no single community board district can process more than 10 percent of the city’s trash.

Enacting Intro 157 will ensure that every neighborhood has “skin in the game” when it comes to the city’s waste production, said NYC Environmental Justice Alliance Executive Director Eddie Bautista.

A previous version of the bill died in committee last December after Council Member I. Daneek Miller, who represents southeast Queens, withdrew his support. Carting businesses in his district opposed the measure. Now, with the support of Council Speaker Corey Johnson, advocates believe they have the 26 votes to pass it.

Intro 157 builds on the Bloomberg administration’s 2006 Solid Waste Management Plan, which called for new waterfront transfer stations to shift long-haul trash cargo from trucks on city streets to boats and trains. At the time, the City Council was expected to pass legislation reducing the amount of trash coming to transfer stations in the three target areas, but so far it hasn’t.

“The rebuilding of the city’s marine transfer systems was just a piece. The other piece was waste equity,” Bautista said. “The marine transfer stations were never going to be able to deal with the severity of commercial waste capacity of these three communities.”

Under speakers Christine Quinn and Melissa Mark-Viverito, the City Council failed to pass the legislation. “We tried to get this done under three different speakers, and this is the first speaker to actually step up to say, ‘I politically want to see this happen,'” Bautista said. “That’s a huge change.”

While the bill has been modified many times since it was originally floated in 2010, Bautista said the only change since December was the elimination of a carve-out to exempt Sanitation Salvage, whose owners, the Squitieri family, are power players in the Bronx Democratic Party.

An investigation by Kiera Feldman at ProPublica exposed Sanitation Salvage and the Squitieris for shortchanging worker protections, implicating the company in the death of Mouctar Diallo, 21. A Sanitation Salvage driver ran over and killed Diallo in April, with police originally identifying him as a “homeless person” to the press. In fact, Diallo was working as a “third man” on a Sanitation Salvage route alongside Sean Spence, the driver who struck him.

The Squitieris and Sanitation Salvage also figure prominently in the lobbying campaign to stop the city from overhauling the private carting industry.

In 2016, the Department of Sanitation recommended shifting the private carting industry to a “zone-based” collection system, where companies would compete for franchises to collect commercial trash within designated areas. Under the current system, private carters make deals with one business at a time, leading to long, inefficient routes.

This set-up exhausts workers and encourages private carting crews to cut corners. The result is a disaster for public safety. Since 2010, drivers for private carters have killed 33 people in New York. City sanitation workers, on the other hand, have not been involved in a fatal crash since 2014.

The city has spent two years preparing for zone-based commercial waste collection, and is expected to release its draft plan in a month. The closer the moment of reckoning gets, the more intense the opposition from private carting businesses like Sanitation Salvage, as well as the real estate lobby.

Advocates wanted each of the 20 zones in the new system to be contracted out to a single company. However, Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia told Politico last week that three to five carters will be assigned to each zone.

More carters operating in each zone means more truck traffic and pollution. “They’re trying to weaken the plan, that’s for sure,” said Maritza Silva-Farrell, executive director of ALIGN, a coalition of labor and neighborhood organizations. “If we want to have a complete transformation of the industry, we have to have a deep reform of the system.”

  • Joe R.

    Any reason why DSNY can’t collect commercial waste? Seems like it would be a better system than using a bunch of private companies.

  • That is the obvious solution. Waste collection, whether residential or commercial, is a public function. It should be performed by a public agency.

  • mfs

    or it’s a natural monopoly like utilities, and need to be regulated as such, which is what the proposed zone system would be.

  • Joe R.

    The difference here is utility monopolies are typically one company like ConEd. If the proposal was to put one company in charge of trash collection then it would be a similar situation. However, this isn’t what is being proposed. Instead, you’ll continue to have a bunch of companies which might be monopolies in their designated areas, but there will be inefficiency as a result. Every company will still have a front office and so forth. Doubtless every company will still have a few big shots skimming off the top.

    All of the above is why it makes more sense to just put DSNY in charge of commercial waste collection. The bureaucracy already exists. With private companies you duplicate that bureaucracy x times. Somebody, in this case businesses getting their waste picked up, ends up paying for all this excess. This is why I strongly feel government is more efficient if left in charge of natural monopolies like waste collection, water/sewer/electricity, education, and health care (in this country we haven’t caught on to the fact health care works better as a monopoly). Private industry is more efficient where there isn’t a natural monopoly because it can size itself to serve whatever the market size for its product is. When the market is basically everyone, multiple entities trying to service everyone results in tons of redundancy which costs lots of money.

  • Larry Littlefield

    If you want the counter arguments, they are these.

    1) Workers in the private carting industry have to work brutal schedules and pick up far for trash than seems reasonable. But what is their reverse? The New York City Department of Sanitation, which picks up less trash per worker, and costs more, than any trash collection anywhere.

    2) The zoned based system in theory has private carters competing to be chosen for zones by doing a good job. But what if they compete by making massive campaign contributions, like the school bus companies? New York City also spends far more per student on school transportation that most places, even though fewer NYC children that average use school buses. When the city tried to get a better deal by having more efficient routes, the school bus companies responded by dumping handicapped children in the wrong place in the freezing cold.

    In summary, NYC consists of people in on the deal, many of whom live in the suburbs, exploiting people not in on the deal, many of whom are immigrants or younger. Right now those working for the private caters are among those exploited, those not in on the deals.

    The assumption seems to be that something like fairness would take place instead. Let’s just say that’s not the way to bet in New York.

    New York’s Tammany Hall like Democrats can’t conceive of fairness across all people, or across generations. Who would be grateful for that? Their idea of social justice is to give a few more special people deals at the expense of everyone else.

  • bggb

    1) Right. One system results in poorly treated employees and significantly higher danger to the public. The other (DSNY) pays better, has better benefits, and kills fewer New Yorkers. To me this supports an argument that’s it worth a better funded, more expensive system.

  • Larry Littlefield

    They can always lobby to be allowed to kill more people too. “Privatization” doesn’t solve problems when the private sector can buy elected officials. Going public doesn’t either, for the same reason.

    I’m not saying a zone-based system isn’t the right thing to do. I’m just saying it isn’t a slam dunk. I’m always suspicious of those who want to remove choice, because in NY those who don’t have choice get robbed by those who do.

    In what form should we pay for a more expensive system? The trend seems to be transit maintenance cuts, cuts in the Administration for Children’s Services between child beating to death scandals, and higher property taxes on other than 1-4 family homes, passed on to renters in the form of soaring rents in non-regulated housing.

  • AnoNYC

    PUT THEM OUT OF BUSINESS.

  • J. Geoff Rove

    Los Angeles started assigned zones, many issues with over billing by the lone hauler. Charges for: using a gate opener; long drives into the property, etc. NYC needs to review the experience in LA.

  • snrvlakk

    And add a tax on businesses roughly in line with what they’re now paying to the private carters? But, of course, the private carters cost less than the DSNY.

  • Joe R.

    Businesses already pay a ton in taxes. They should be rightly pissed off that trash pickup isn’t already included in the taxes they pay.

    And who says the private carters would cost less than the DSNY? For starters businesses would no longer paying for duplication of front offices, big shots skimming off the top, and so forth for multiple companies. Even if DSNY workers are paid more, that might be offset by savings elsewhere. Even if not, the money can come from elsewhere. Start by cutting the budget for the NYPD and DOE in half. We’re paying much more for police and schools per capita than other cities.

  • snrvlakk

    Just a thought. When you say DSNY costs more & collects less, are you taking into account 1) DSNY drivers also spend time plowing snow–not counted, I assume; & 2) DSNY also collects recycling as a separeate waste stream? I’m sure that as public employees with a living wage and decent benefits, they cost more than the underpaid & abused private guys, but I figure there are countervailing economies (no profit, no property taxes on garage properties, etc).

  • Joe R.

    DSNY workers may make more than those in private industry, but there would be savings in other areas. You won’t be paying for duplication of bureaucracy. You won’t be paying fat cats skimming off the top (one reason the private sanitation workers are payed so little). NYC won’t be paying one way or another for the carnage caused the private carter’s dangerous driving. And the routes can be laid out more efficiently, making better use of the more expensive labor. I say try it and see what happens.

  • Joe R.

    Also, part of their duties besides plowing snow include cleaning up after major events like New Year’s Eve and picking up garbage dumped in parks/expressways/etc. That takes away from the hours spent on regular garbage pickup. The private carters do one thing—haul commercial waste. And if they do cost less, part of the reason is that they’re grossly underpaid, to the point they have a strong incentive to drive dangerously. The private carters don’t pay for the consequences of this dangerous driving. NYC does. If you look at the big picture, I’m dubious if DSNY really costs more at all.

  • Larry Littlefield

    As I noted in the post, I tried to explain this every way I could.

    The street sweepers? Not enough to make a difference. Lots of snowvertime in March, the month the Census Bureau counts. Not enough to make a difference. Less private sanitation employment in NYC compared with elsewhere? Not enough to explain it. Recycling? NY sanitation workers were collecting less before it.

    “If you look at the big picture, I’m dubious if DSNY really costs more at all.”

    I was comparing them with public trash collection elsewhere in the U.S.

    One thing I can think of is that NYC is one of the few places in the U.S. that does not charge for garbage pick up. So people don’t see it as a bill, and thus don’t question it.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Again, looking at employment levels, here vs. elsewhere, part time workers — of which DSNY has almost none — are converted into full time equivalent employment. But full time workers aren’t converted into more full time equivalent workers due to overtime.

    My guess is that most of those events are on overtime, not counted in employment differences.

    The mean payroll per FTE worker in the DSNY is higher than the median pay per worker for NYC residents with graduate degrees, let alone other workers. But I’m referring here to among of stuff moved per worker compared with other public agencies, not what they are paid.

  • bggb

    I am saying the cost difference per employee or per ton of trash is not a good argument against fixing the private hauling system, otherwise the logic is a straight trade off of being ok with pollution and pedestrian danger in return for saving money.

  • Larry Littlefield
  • snrvlakk

    We ALL pay plenty of taxes, for the unspeakable pleasure, convenience, JOY of living in the greatest City in the known universe. I don’t pay for these businesses’ water bills or Con Ed bills. I am not currently paying for their garbage collection, either; I’d prefer to keep it that way.

  • No Americans — and certainly no American businesses — pay “a ton” of taxes. And this is the problem. The U.S. is an absurdly low-tax country, with a typical resident’s tax burden that is miniscule as compared to that of residents of other Western democracies.

    When we see our infrastructure crumbling, and when we see public functions being offloaded to private-sector thieves and con men, we must understand that this is solely because too many Americans have been led to believe that taxes are evil, when in fact taxes are the means by which we as a society sustain public goods.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Public employee retirement income is exempt from state and local income taxes in New York.

    Peter Abbate, with many co-sponsors, has repeatedly introduced legislation to not count public employee retirement and Social Security income when determining whether someone is a “poor senior” and thus exempt from most property taxes under the STAR program.

    People in this co-op paid zero property taxes for 20 years under a deal they got.

    https://licpost.com/citylights-residents-hold-rally-at-city-hall-seek-tax-relief

    The serfs had to pay for their public services. Now our “progressive” elected demand that they be exempted from property taxes for a total of 35-plus years. And, of course, our Democratic Mayor and Governor cut a deal to exempt many new buildings from property taxes for 45 years. That’s 45 years!

    Meanwhile, New York City has just about the highest state and local tax burden out there, and it keeps going up even as services are cut, because those paying in keep getting worse off relative to those taking out.

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