Local restaurants, offices and myriad businesses generate millions of tons of solid waste each year, all of it hauled away by private contractors who operate outside the city’s direct control.
A coalition of labor unions, community and environmental groups says the city under the next mayor should take greater control of commercial waste collection and bring order to the industry by establishing a franchise system.
In a report authored by the Alliance for a Greater New York, the group proposes the creation of a competitive bidding process for private haulers. Franchise zones, to be established across the city, would “ensure accountability through reporting requirements and increased city oversight,” the group argues in Transform Don’t Trash NYC, released last week.
Under the proposed franchise system, private carters would be required to follow key “environmental and labor practices” in exchange for a steady, geographically clustered customer base. Carting companies would be required to provide safety training and a living wage to their employees, in keeping with the working conditions of city sanitation workers.
The franchise zones would rationalize a waste pick-up system in which a reported 4,000 licensed and un-licensed trucks crisscross the city, with multiple carters in the same neighborhood at times, the group says. And both the rationalizing of pick-up routes, and higher emissions standards for trucks, would help to improve air quality, especially in communities that host transfer stations, the report argues.
ALIGN says that cities like San Jose, Calif., and Seattle, Wash., have adopted similar franchise systems for commercial waste collection.
New York City’s restaurants, offices, and businesses generate 3.2 million tons of solid waste each year, according to ALIGN. Two million tons of that waste finds its way to landfills and incinerators in a process described as “inefficient, costly and polluting.”
The city’s commercial waste is trucked daily to waste transfer stations concentrated in areas historically home to low-income and minority communities. The environmental justice movement has maintained for years that elevated asthma rates and other public health issues in these areas can be linked to heavy truck traffic, transfer stations and other waste management-related infrastructure.
More recycling by businesses would also minimize truck trips to transfer stations.
ALIGN’s proposed environmental standards require that carters increase recycling rates. The city’s last analysis of the commercial waste stream in 2004 estimated that almost 30 percent of commercial waste was recycled. ALIGN says over 90 percent of the city’s commercial waste can now be recycled or composted.
In May, the city launched a pilot residential composting program, which is set to expand to 100,000 residents by 2014.