Reform of Rogue Sanitation Companies Will Save Lives — And the Planet

Council Member Antonio Reynoso wants the city to create exclusive commercial waste zones to help curb greenhouse gas emissions. Photo: Antonio Reynoso.
Council Member Antonio Reynoso wants the city to create exclusive commercial waste zones to help curb greenhouse gas emissions. Photo: Antonio Reynoso.

Can the garbage industry get clean?

A City Council proposal to reform the notorious private carting industry will not only make the roads safer, but will be the ecological equivalent of removing one-fifth of the city’s greenhouse-gas-spewing cars — but the de Blasio administration doesn’t support the measure.

A new report to be issued today by the Transform Don’t Trash NYC coalition bolsters Brooklyn Council Member Antonio Reynoso’s call to create exclusive zones where only a single trash company could operate and put an end to the current free-for-all of up to 50 private carters picking up trash in each neighborhood. Exclusive zones, Reynoso says, would eliminate the incentive for the rogue companies to race through the streets from dusk to dawn, but also cut the number of trucks on the streets — reducing 18 million diesel truck miles a year, which is the equivalent of 37 trips to the moon and back.

“There can be no more debate and half-measures on climate change. The time to transform New York’s commercial waste system to sharply reduce both greenhouse gas emissions and local air pollution is now,” said Justin Wood from New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, who co-authored the report, Fighting New York’s Climate Emergency with Waste Zones. “We’re far behind other cities, where we should be leading.”

A graphic of the equivalent of how many cars creating exclusive waste zones would kick off the road from the report, Fighting New York’s Climate Emergency with Waste Zones.
A graphic of the equivalent of how many cars creating exclusive waste zones would kick off the road from the report, “Fighting New York’s Climate Emergency with Waste Zones.”

Reynoso unveiled legislation last month in hopes of reforming an industry that has killed at least 21 people since 2016, with the latest fatality coming last month when a Boro Wide Recycling truck driver backed up a one-way street in Jamaica, striking and killing a motorcycle rider.

The de Blasio administration balks at Reynoso’s call for “no less 20 zones” exclusive zones, preferring permitting three to five haulers to 20 zones across the city. Transitioning to exclusive waste zones holds the promise of reducing crashes, but it would also drastically cut back on the amount of greenhouse gasses the thousands of big rigs emit into the air by creating recycling and composting requirements through financial incentives as part of the legislation.

Commercial waste hauling is not often thought about when officials tackle global warming — but there are roughly 1,100 diesel-powered garbage trucks on the city’s streets every night. Worse, says Eric Goldstein of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the industry isn’t doing enough about all the food waste that gets mixed in with the garbage, releasing “planet-cooking methane” as it decays.

“An exclusive zone system, as this report shows, can slash these airborne emissions and transform the city’s commercial waste collection system from a renegade source of global warming pollution to a national model of sustainability and equity,” he said.

The Council will take up the legislation on June 27.

  • The way to clean up the garbage industry: get rid of it. There should be no such “industry”.

    The hauling of trash is a public function, no matter whether it is residential trash or commercial trash. This function should be performed by the Department of Sanitation.

  • Larry Littlefield

    No one would be able to afford it. They require more people to remove less trash while being paid far more than any similar workers anywhere else, for reasons I’ve tried to figure out but have never found an answer for. (You might call it anti-worker hate speech for even asking the question). If the private carters abuse their poor workers, the data implies the DOS abuses the customer — all the poor workers.

    You need to accept that the homo sapiens who aren’t in on the “pay up whether you like it or no and don’t expect much because you have no choice” deals are in fact people.

    At least the sanitation workers, unlike the UFT/NYSUT/AQE aren’t suing the rest of us for $billions more and claiming they have no obligation to pick up the garbage because we have cheated them out of $billions. In many cases, but not all cases, NYC’s “public functions” are off the charts.

    You are willing to question the level of staffing at the NYPD, which is sky high, but nothing else. Others are blasting NYC transit workers, whose cost per vehicle revenue hour is below average rather than above. Not so the DOS.

    https://larrylittlefield.files.wordpress.com/2018/06/infra8.jpg

    https://larrylittlefield.files.wordpress.com/2018/06/infra9.jpg

    https://larrylittlefield.files.wordpress.com/2018/06/infrat12.jpg

  • Larry Littlefield

    Think about it. A convincing argument has been made that the private caters should have MORE workers relative to the amount of work they do, although having them drive fewer miles might offset that.

    So even the modest extent to which NYC private solid waste employment is lower than the U.S. average perhaps should not exist. And they you are just left with massively higher local government solid waste employment.

  • Regarding the police department, I’m far less concerned with its staffing levels than with its policies and priorities.

    That department could deploy its enormous workforce to battle the type of lawbreaking that most effects the most New Yorkers, i.e.: drivers’ many illegal acts. Speeding could be eliminated, as could double parking and so many other dangerous illegal acts to which drivers have become accustomed. And the police department could have teams of officers riding their bikes up and down all of our bike lanes, in order to keep them free from incursion. If the police department had the right priorities and better leadership, its level of staffing could be an enormous asset to the community.

    Regarding the Department of Sanitation, we should realise that that is an extremely hazardous job. To imply that these workers are two highly paid, when they emerge from the job with their bodies broken and their life spans shortened, is indeed a kind of polite hate speech. If other cities rip off their sanitation workers, that is not an excuse for our city to follow the same ugly pattern.

    Furthermore, we could easily extend the DSNY’s mandate to include commercial trash hauling. Of course, we’d have to pay for this, and rightfully so.

    While you might prefer to have your public services provided for free by workers who are indentured servants or even enslaved, the fact is that the trappings of civilisation cost money. And we who benefit from these public services have the responsibility to pay for them, and also to see to it that the people who trade their health for our comfort get generously compensated.

    The problem underlying all of this is that our taxes are so irresponsibly low.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “The problem underlying all of this is that our taxes are so irresponsibly low.”

    And yet higher than anywhere else.

    https://larrylittlefield.files.wordpress.com/2018/12/TaxesNE.jpg

    Except for retired public employees, who are exempt from state and local income taxes and keep pushing bills for special property tax exemptions too (not counting their pension income as income for the STAR program so they qualify as “poor seniors” who require special breaks).

    And shouldn’t any additional taxes go to providing something for those who have less, rather than more for those who already have more? Because more for those who already have more is what we have had, federal, state, local, private sector.

    A Marxist professor one told me that the only way anyone could be rich is if other people are poor, because if other people weren’t poor their dollar wouldn’t go any farther than anyone else’s. Who could one hire as a maid if everyone was “rich” and no one was poor? It is the executive/financial class, the political/union class, and the serfs. The serfs can’t afford even more for either of the others.

  • It is particularly critical to have only one carting company on each block to allow for regrouping of garbage off the sidewalks in parking lanes. With multiple companies, such an aggregation is impossible..

  • In most cities I have lived in, trash is done by the city. Municipal fleet. Why not NYC? Then they could all be electric too

  • The “our” in “our taxes” refers to Americans in general.

    Therefore our taxes are not higher than anyone else’s. In fact, the tax burden of an American is much less than that of the average European, and roughly half of a citizen of Belgium or Denmark, where they have levels of public services that would make us weep, while having general properitis with much less inequality.

    Meanwhile, you want something for nothing. And you continue your shameful pattern of demoning the last remaining unionised workers for having obtained appropriate levels of compensation in collective bargaining, rather than grasping the fact that these workers are doing things the right way, and are setting an example that the rest of the working class would do well to follow.

    I am unsurprised that you fundamentally misunderstood what your Marxist professor was trying to tell you.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Their compensation is relative. It is impossible for everyone to get more than everyone else. So that example can’t be followed. Getting some more people in on the deal just makes it worse for those on the outside.

    Both the executive/financial class and the political/union class fundamentally fail to understand that workers and consumers (or in the case of government, taxpayers and service recipients rather than consumers) are not, in the aggregate, two different groups of people. They are the same people at different times of the day. Which is exactly the point Marx made about the “contradiction” at the heart of capitalism.

    And as a result of it, the crisis that was prevented from running its course in 2008 may soon resume.

    https://larrylittlefield.wordpress.com/2018/09/06/rising-u-s-debt-is-the-real-cause-of-the-u-s-trade-deficit-and-inequality/

    Thereby allowing those in the political/union class to put the serfs further in their place by raising their taxes and cutting their services.Thereby allowing those in the political/union class to put the serfs further in their place by raising their taxes and cutting their services.

  • Larry Littlefield

    In those cities was solid waste collection free, or paid for with fees?

  • Larry Littlefield

    And, by the way, anyone can argue that any data on funding is and money and costs any way, but it’s hard to argue with death. Have you heard that pension costs are soaring because the average life expectancy of retired public employees with pensions is going up…

    https://insurancenewsnet.com/oarticle/the-society-of-actuaries-releases-public-retirement-plans-mortality-tables-pub-2010#.XRJAW_5YaUk

    “Despite, for some of them, bodies broken and their life spans shortened.” Based on…

    While the life expectancy of everybody born after 1958 or so is now going down for the first time?

    https://larrylittlefield.wordpress.com/2015/11/08/death-is-the-ultimate-statistic-ii-the-most-important-news-in-ten-years/

  • Utility fee, charged every 2 months, in one case.

    Refuse Collection 96 gal.: $47.26

    Refuse Collection 48 gal.: $44.88

    Recycling: $7.58

    Greenwaste: $11.12

  • It is impossible for everyone to get more than everyone else. So that example can’t be followed.

    Oy. Either you are denser than I thought or more dishonest than I thought. (Frankly, I don’t care which it is.) To spell it out: the example is to organise, so as to maximise workers’ negotiating power. This example could most definitely be followed.

    Getting some more people in on the deal just makes it worse for those on the outside.

    Solution: leave no workers on the outside.

    Both the executive/financial class and the political/union class fundamentally fail to understand that workers and consumers (or in the case of government, taxpayers and service recipients rather than consumers) are not, in the aggregate, two different groups of people. They are the same people at different times of the day.

    No, this is what you fail to understand. When our public workers get good compensation, that is a case of the working class caring for itself, of us acting in our common interest. But you’d rather denounce our fellow workers than support them, because you posit a nonexistent competition between workers and the public.

  • You doubt the shortened life spans of sanitation workers. Maybe you were absent on the day that your Marxist professor covered the 1968 Memphis sanitation strike, during which the politicians and the mainstream press used anti-worker hate speech that is not much different to the kind that you traffic in. During that strike, the best known point of the union was a study that established that the life expectancy of sanitation workers was a good ten-plus years shorter than that of the general public.

    Even if that gap has gotten smaller in the past fifty years, it has not closed completely, as sanitation remains amongst the most dangerous jobs in the world, beyond even soldier and police officer.

    The running theme in your whole twisted propaganda campaign is a lack of appreciation for the enormous benefits that we all get from our public workers, be they sanitation workers, transit workers, or teachers. These are the people who sustain our civilisation; yet you do nothing but spit in their eyes.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Here is the thing. If there is a charge for a service, even with subsidy, those paying question and evaluate the fairness of what they are being asked to pay, and what they are receiving.

    As is the case for the subway, or NYC water and sewer, which beats just about any public service anywhere for its value and efficiency.

    Whereas if it is “free” then those producing it can always claim that if they put less in or take more out (say a pension increase) “they” will be forced to pay for it. Which is what NY’s political/union class always claims. But somehow “they” aren’t dealing with the high tax burden and unmet public needs.

    In FY 2014, last time I checked, charges for services equaled 74.2% of all local government spending on solid waste in the U.S. — just 0.6% for NYC, so the DOS apparently charges someone for something. In addition, there are places where garbage collection is just mandated and paid for directly by the individual rather than through a locality, as is the case for business solid wasted in NYC.
    NYC really is an outlier. Of course a charge would fall more heavily on the less well off unless it were offset some way.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Because public workers aren’t well treated elsewhere one dare not question how well they collective treat us in New York, you say. Memphis in 1968 is not the same as NYC in 2019.

    Heck, Memphis is 2019 is not the same as NYC is 2019 — Tennessee has one of the lowest state and local tax burdens in the country, NYC the highest. In fact nowhere in the U.S. is close to NYC for many services. I’ll get that the average NYC DOS worker lives as long as the average New Yorker, adjusted for male vs. female.

    Workers not in on the deal are people too.

  • Larry Littlefield

    So why not allow all public workers to retire after 10 years of work?

    The public workers would be in the vanguard and establish what “they” would have to provide to everyone someday — when doing so wouldn’t increase the public worker and retirees’ cost of living.

    That’s is therefore more important than dealing with the fact that there will only be enough money to pay 80 percent of Social Security benefits in 2032, right?

    In NYC, we’ve reached the point where in 1984 the pigs have changed the slogan to some animals are more equal than others. There really is no place like it anywhere. Not California. Not Massachusetts. Not Europe. Nowhere.

  • Joe R.

    https://taxfoundation.org/comparison-tax-burden-labor-oecd-2018/

    The total tax burden on the working class in the US is slightly lower than the OECD average.

    If you want to argue that taxes are irresponsibly low on the wealthy, yes, I agree with you there. But they’re not irresponsibly low on the working classes. They have no numbers for the tax burden in NYS/NYC relative to the US, but if you include those numbers, the average working stiff here is probably taxed more than in Norway or Denmark.

    Also, you need to look at the other side of the equation, namely what do those paying higher taxes get in return? The reason somewhat higher tax rates are tolerated in the EU is that the average person can get all of the following:

    1) free education through college (i.e. no student loans to worry about like here in the US)

    2) free healthcare, including nursing home care (you don’t have to worry about everything your parents worked for disappearing in a few years if they go to a nursing home, nor do you need to worry about an illness bankrupting you)

    3) great public transportation (no need to own a car in many cases)

    4) much better infrastructure in general

    5) free child care

    6) extensive family leave

    7) much better working conditions, including often having the entire summer off

    In the US taxes frequently go to pay certain classes of people benefits the rest of us aren’t eligible for. In this environment it’s no surprise many people are against higher taxes. Few people are willing to pay for free stuff which only other people can get.

  • Joe R.

    The fact the NYPD is overstaffed is part of the reason for those policies and priorities you mention. We have more police than things for them to do. That means we have them harassing law-abiding citizens for violating petty laws which shouldn’t even exist. We can do one of two things. One is to cut the NYPD by 2/3rds. That will bring staffing per capita in line with other large cities. The other is to do things to increase violent crime so the police have real police work to do. The latter will also drop property values and make NYC more affordable for those brave enough to remain (just like in the “good old days” from the early 1970s through early 1990s). Either way a lot of the policies you and I detest will disappear because the police will lack the manpower for them.

  • Joe R.

    Businesses in NYC already pay a ton in taxes. Waste collection should be included in those services the taxes pay for. If we can wring more efficiency out of DSNY, there might not even be any additional costs to haul this extra waste.

  • Attaining these things for all workers in this country comes down to recognising our common interest and organising in order to demand them. On this question, the post-Boomer generations of workers who have generally ignored or even denounced unions, and have thereby set the struggle back significantly, have plenty to answer for.

  • As I mentioned, it is possible to turn the overstaffedness of the police department into a benefit by putting cops to work at stopping the many, many illegal acts committed by drivers.

  • Joe R.

    Of course it is in theory. In practice the cops make excuses for drivers, and even pat them on the back after they’ve killed someone. The entire culture of the NYPD needs to change before what you suggest can happen.

  • That is true.

    And, because the most appropriate fix, namely, disbandment of the current police department and the establishment of a new one, is completely impossible, the next best remedy is change from the top down, by means of the appointment of a commissioner who understands the need for the department to evolve on bicycle-related issues. Perhaps a future mayor Corey Johnson or Antonio Reynoso could appoint Eric Adams.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “The most appropriate fix, namely, disbandment of the current police department and the establishment of a new one.”

    After the failure of school reform despite a massive, massive increase in funding at the expense of everything else, I have sadly reached the same conclusion with regard to the NYC schools.

    Stop trying, stop lying, pursue alternatives.

    Sometimes it’s the only way to really change things. It’s why the private sector works. Bankruptcy, and new companies, not inherent competence.

  • specialmonkey

    The only problem is cops are some of the very people inclined to break the laws you imagine them enforcing.

  • You’re right. That is a huge problem, and a significant obstacle to any kind of reform of enforcement policies.

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