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December 4, 2019

NYC passes Commercial Waste Zones bill

After more than six years of planning, the New York City Council has passed the Commercial Waste Zones bill (Intro 1574) that would create at least 20 different zones and designate a select number of private waste haulers to provide services in each.

The Transform Don’t Trash NYC coalition says the new policy will reform the city’s existing private trash hauling industry while raising the sector’s transparency, accountability and quality of service to small businesses. Opponents, however, say the bill may lead to a near-monopoly in the industry that could have severe consequences for dozens of the city's private carters.

Council Member Antonio Reynoso sponsored the legislation, which passed Oct. 30. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio signed it into law Nov. 20.

"We are making private sanitation a good job again," says Sean T. Campbell, president of Teamsters Local 813 and member of the Transform Don’t Trash coalition. "For years, private sanitation workers have testified at city council hearings and protested in the streets for legislation to hold their employers accountable. ... Commercial waste zones will overhaul private sanitation to reward the good companies and force the bad companies to shape up."

The legislation will create a competitive bid to assign private carters to specific zones, with no more than three carters designated to a zone. Private carters will need to meet baseline standards to be eligible for a zone and their proposals will be judged based on their plans to improve safety, recycling, pollution and job quality.

The carters will be chosen through a competitive bidding process starting early next year with a request for proposals. Contracts are set to be awarded in 2021, according to a roadmap of the plan released by New York’s Department of Sanitation (DSNY) last year.

DSNY says the law will cut private garbage truck traffic by more than half across the city, set standards for waste facilities and worker protections, and create stronger requirements for low-polluting waste trucks.

DSNY says more than 90 private carting companies currently operate throughout the city. New Yorkers for Responsible Waste Management Inc. (NYRWM), however, disputes that number, claiming it is outdated and industry consolidation has brought the number closer to 35.

Local carters handle more than 12,000 tons of waste per night, or more than 4 million tons of solid waste annually, says NYRWM. One block can see over a hundred private garbage trucks in a single night, according to Transform Don’t Trash NYC. NYRWM says the industry employs more than 3,000 people.

New York’s private carting industry has been involved in numerous controversial reports and allegations throughout the years, including traffic crashes and other safety violations, eventually spurring the recent government oversight.

The bill's passage is controversial, as private hauling businesses worry “dozens of companies could be forced out of business,” according to an advocacy website. Other grievances include businesses losing choices, potential price spikes, a lack of competition and the creation of a city-controlled bureaucracy.

Kendall Christiansen, the executive director of NYRWM, says the bill exaggerates the potential benefits of the industry overhaul. For example, he says the 500 packer trucks operating in the city make up less than 0.1 percent of total trucks operating in the city every day, creating minimal impact on the environment.

Christiansen adds that three of the four largest unions representing the industry's employees—Local 108 of the Mason Tenders, Local 339 of IUJAT and Local 890 of LYFE—have all expressed opposition to the bill.

The National Waste and Recycling Association (NWRA) has also been outspoken about its opposition to the bill in the past.

“As we move from the legislative process to implementation and administration of the new commercial waste zone collection system that was opposed by NWRA, many unresolved issues remain,” says Steve Changaris, vice president of NWRA’s Northeast region, in a statement.