Waste Collectors Say New Proposal to Reform Trash Collection Won’t Work

TRANCRIPT:
A new bill in the city council could change the way commercial trash is collected in the city. A group of environmental and labor activists say the bill would reduce truck traffic and hold the private waste hauling industry accountable for better standards. But the private waste companies that collect this trash say the proposal just won’t work. Nina Agrawal has more.

AGRAWAL: On Earth Day last year, Mayor Bill de Blasio revealed his ONE NYC plan – which includes a pledge to drastically reduce the amount of garbage the city produces in the next 15 years.

DE BLASIO: Zero waste for our landfills. We’re going to constantly drive down the amount of waste we create through composting, through better recycling. To the point that nothing goes from New York City to a landfill in the future.

AGRAWAL:It’s a tall order — and environmental advocates say key to meeting it is changing how the city collects commercial waste. The city picks up residential trash, but all the commercial trash – from restaurants, bars, office buildings – gets picked up by private companies. Shawn Kaid works for one of these companies, #1 Waste and Recycler. It’s run by his family – who are immigrants from Yemen. Kaid’s cousin drives, while he hangs off the back. Every couple blocks, he jumps off, picks up garbage bags and tosses them into the truck.

KAID: It’s not bad. Pays the bills, you know?

AGRAWAL: Kaid’s family owns two garbage trucks – they work long shifts, at least 9 or 10 hours a night, six nights a week. They drive all over Brooklyn and Manhattan. That’s how it is for most of the nearly two hundred and fifty private companies that are licensed to pick up commercial trash in the city. They compete with each other for contracts and go wherever they have business. That means lots of trucks crisscrossing the city, using lots of fuel and causing lots of air pollution.

A coalition of environmental and labor advocates called “Transform, Don’t Trash” is currently working with the City Council to introduce a new bill that would streamline private garbage collection. Matt Ryan is the executive director of ALIGN, one of the groups leading the coalition.

RYAN:  In this scenario the city would create geographic zones across the five boroughs… And people would bid then on those geographic zones.

AGRAWAL: The way it works now, companies compete fiercely for individual contracts. And activists like Ryan say that’s been a big problem, from an environmental and safety perspective.

RYAN:  In this highly competitive Darwinian situation here, the first thing a company is most likely to do to try to save a contract is to cut costs wherever they can.

AGRAWAL: He says a city-managed zoning system would change that. Companies would be able to win bids to collect garbage from all of the businesses in a zone, which would give them steady work. And the city would only award contracts to companies who meet their standards.

RYAN:  We want to make sure you have the highest recycling standard to help meet the zero waste goal of the city, we want to make sure we understand where you take the trash, and thirdly, we want to see a safe industry.

AGRAWAL: Domenic Monopoli is the owner of Filco Carting, a large family-run carting company in Brooklyn.

MONOPOLI: The concept is just not gonna work. We service approximately 3,000, 3,500 customers a day. We get near zero complaints. There’s no way the city’s going to be picked up as efficiently as it is now.

AGRAWAL: On top of that, he says, it’s just not fair.

MONOPOLI: I’ve been servicing some of my customers for 50 years. What gives the city the right to go to them and say, well, now you have to use this guy?

AGRAWAL: Monopoli also doubts that one exclusive company can offer customers better service.

MONOPOLI:  Most of my major customers have my home phone number and my cell phone…I’ve had calls on Christmas morning b/c a florist burned down and we were working Chrismas afternoon to clean it up. You’re not going to get that personal attention if it’s one guy has a zone.

AGRAWAL: If the city does decide to adopt a zone system, Monopoli guesses his company is big enough and well known enough, it’d win at least one zone. But smaller companies may not be so lucky. Remember #1 Waste & Recycler? Monopoli says there’s no way he’ll stay in business
MONOPOLI: He’s got his life wrapped up there, all his money, prob 2 or 3 generations involved… and they’re just out of business. And I don’t think that’s fair.

AGRAWAL: But Matt Ryan from the Transform Don’t Trash coalition says trash collection is already dominated by a dozen or so big companies, so it’s a false trade-off. And the potential benefits of zoning are evident in the experience of other cities like Seattle and San Francisco.

RYAN: This is what we’ve seen around the country–is whenever people have these sort of contracts and zone systems, recycling rates spike.

AGRAWAL: He might not convince the waste haulers, but it could be a strong argument when the proposal reaches the mayor.

Nina Agrawal, Columbia Radio News

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