Gotham Gazette Wed, 03 Mar 2021 09:11:08 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) Kathryn Garcia Talks Trash Kathryn Garcia sanitation garbage trash

Kathryn Garcia (photo via the Department of Sanitation)

This could be the election that flips an old maxim on its head: we may soon find out that there are many different Democratic ways to pick up the trash.

While garbage probably won’t be among the top issues most voters care about when electing the next mayor of New York City, what better opportunity for a real conversation about how the city handles its trash and recycling than having the recently-departed sanitation commissioner among the candidates vying for the city’s top job.

Kathryn Garcia, who after six years in the post left her job as head of the city’s Department of Sanitation in September to run for mayor in this year’s election, is always ready to talk trash, and she recently previewed her vision for the future of how the city deals with its garbage in an interview with Gotham Gazette, while promising a full plan soon.

But Garcia’s not making it the centerpiece of her campaign. In the early going, she has been most focused on pitching her overall management credentials — she’s also been interim chair of the city’s public housing authority and the city’s emergency “food czar,” among other government roles — and her plans for the city’s recovery from COVID-19, dealing with climate change, and housing. Her initial campaign platform also touches on policing, transit, and education, and there are elements of waste management mentioned in her climate and resiliency plan.

And that’s the thing about handling the city’s incredible amount of trash: it’s an overlapping issue with not only climate, but public health and street safety, transit, use of public space, and more. It’s also an important part of the economy and city government spending, of course — the sanitation department accounts for roughly $1.7 billion in this year's municipal budget.

“Yes, you can expect a comprehensive trash plan in the coming weeks,” Garcia, a Democrat, recently told Gotham Gazette, “that will cover EPR [extended producer responsibility], curbside organics recycling, compost facilities, clean curbs and containerization, and waste reduction.”

“New York City had the country's largest food scraps collection program before our budget was slashed; we will bring it back immediately,” she said of a budgeting decision by Mayor Bill de Blasio, the term-limited Democrat, and her plans if elected to replace him. “We can't get to zero waste without it. We will also open compost facilities in every borough, including on Rikers island, to increase in-city processing capacity.”

While de Blasio cut the city’s burgeoning curbside organics recycling pickup program in this fiscal year’s budget, the city does currently have roughly 100 drop-off composting sites across the five boroughs. The de Blasio administration has stalled in efforts to meet sweeping goals to reduce the city's millions of tons of annual waste output and significantly increase its recycling, as detailed in an exhaustive series by Politico New York published last year.

Garcia says that while she is interested in pursuing a variety of waste management reforms to restore or build on portions of her record she’s proud of, her main focus is “waste reduction.”

“We will do the analysis of pay as you throw that this administration refused to allow us to do,” she said. “And we will aggressively pursue EPR so that the product manufacturers are responsible for the end of life of those items.”

To encourage more recycling, which Garcia noted has recently been “up significantly” on “traditional materials,” she believes the city “should increase the fine” for not recycling recyclable materials. “It is $25 now,” she said. “That seems a little bit low in my mind to be an incentive not to be just throwing materials that could have value into the regular garbage. But the real next turn is organic waste.”

“I definitely want to mandate organics [recycling],” Garcia said in a separate video interview with Gotham Gazette and Manhattan Neighborhood Network that will air and be available online later this month. “I think it's time to do that. But we also need to make sure that we are getting it distributed completely around the city.”

“I want to take big leaps and the difference I will bring to the table is commitment and follow through,” she added when asked further questions by email. “It takes many months of consistency to build a new program and we need to offer services equitably for every single neighborhood.”

The other new program Garcia got moving while at sanitation, albeit much later than her critics would have liked, and says she wants to expand if elected mayor is “containerization,” or using sealed bins to collect trash and recycling instead of having mountains of full garbage bags all over city sidewalks. The containers can then be emptied by matching garbage trucks, cutting down not only on trash bags on sidewalks, but rat access, smell, and grueling lifting by sanitation workers. Containerization can also help free up sidewalk space and limit intrusions into bike lanes — containers can at times even help create protected bike lanes — and be especially helpful to those with strollers or mobility challenges.

Garcia helped launch the “clean curbs” pilot program last year, and though it was delayed by the covid crisis it is now moving ahead, starting with commercial landlords and business improvement districts that volunteer to participate and are accepted into the program, which comes with several requirements.

“So absolutely do we want to look at containerization particularly for commercial strips with residential above,” she said during the video interview when asked about getting all the bags of garbage off city sidewalks. “Because that we think could be effective. We need to do some more work with communities about whether or not we could containerize residential because the question is where is the container located. But in terms of new buildings they should all have containers in them and they should be inside the building so that it's not on the street and not creating, sort of, the walls of material.”

Garcia was referring to the passage of “rules to ensure all new large construction will require containerization,” for example, “in a loading dock.”

“I would love to take it in that direction,” she said when asked if widespread containerization of trash and recycling is her vision, “but I need to understand better if I actually thought it could work. And when we've looked at stuff from Europe, we have so much more volume that fitting that volume into a container that isn't enormous is really the tricky part of this.”

“But,” she stressed, “the key to getting garbage off our streets is to really approach the problem by focusing on waste reduction.”

The conversations did not touch on corner waste basket pick-up, another program within sanitation that recently saw significant budget cuts, some of which were restored amid widespread complaints of overflowing trash cans, that Garcia objected to and criticized in her resignation letter.

Garcia is also proud that during her tenure the de Blasio administration came to an agreement with the City Council on a new law to revamp the private trash hauling industry, rationalizing the market and cutting down on truck trips and therefore emissions.

For the public fleet, Garcia is pledging to move to electric sanitation trucks, as well as electric city buses and school buses.

Along with the pace and design of the initial containerization pilot, Garcia’s call to electrify the city’s garbage trucks is among the points where she has received some criticism. Questions have been raised as to why the city’s container pilot is requiring private entities to provide the bins instead of the city quickly investing in standardized containers and the trucks to match.

Darren Goldner, an organizer around climate and ecosocialism issues, argues that the city has moved far too slowly on containerization and that Garcia should now be proposing to move quickly toward the models seen across Europe while also “shifting from heavy trucks to light trucks” instead of focusing on electrifying the department fleet, which he called “greenwashing.”

The heavy trucks, Goldner says, are “terrible for the climate,” especially when paired with its current pick-up system instead of utilizing consolidated containerization.

Garcia’s focus, he says, should be “updating DSNY's core function: inefficient door-to-door sidewalk collection with outdated, inefficient heavy trucks.”

Goldner and the rest of the Ecosocialist Working Group of the New York City Democratic Socialists of America is developing a 2021 platform around climate and related issues, including waste management, which they will be pushing candidates for city offices to adopt. Meanwhile, Garcia is working on her trash plan, which could help spur other candidates in the crowded mayoral field to take a substantive dumpster dive.

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Kathryn Garcia Talks Trash Mon, 04 Jan 2021 05:00:00 +0000
Fighting Climate Change and Offering Good Green Jobs: New York City Must Save Its Recycling and Organics Composting Programs exec order plastic

Mayor de Blasio at a garbage facility (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)

Even as the global COVID-19 shutdown produces fortuitous environmental benefits such as cleaner air due to a huge decline in travel, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is cynically using the pandemic to justify backtracking on pollution standards and enforcement, easing a path for climate change and related catastrophes to continue unabated. This is deeply concerning. By some measures, last winter was the warmest ever recorded, and the 2020 hurricane season is expected to be more active and dangerous than normal.  

Sustainable waste management remains one of the vital environmental policy areas in which municipal and state governments retain full control. As New York City enters a budget process filled with painful choices, the mayor should rethink the hasty decision to suspend compost collections, and should preserve the Department of Sanitation’s (DSNY) organic waste recycling programs. These are critical local climate change initiatives that also provide good, green jobs our communities will desperately need during this recession.

Food scraps, food-soiled paper, and yard waste comprise more than one-third of what New Yorkers throw out, and residential food waste will likely increase as more people eat at home during the emergency. When buried in landfills, as most of this material is, these organic materials emit methane, a greenhouse gas about 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Modern organics composting and recycling facilities can transform food scraps and other organic waste into a nutrient-rich soil or fertilizer and renewable energy sources – but only if we sort and collect organic waste separately from other recyclables and trash. Without continuing and expanding our organics recycling capacity, we won’t be able to move the needle on this major greenhouse gas source anytime soon.

Composting and recycling waste also create and sustain far more jobs than exporting garbage to landfills and incinerators. Although relatively small, New York City’s organics programs already employ more than 100 uniformed sanitation workers in collections alone, in unionized jobs where safety, training, and benefits are available. Dozens more workers are employed at food scrap drop-off sites, local composting facilities, and in other green jobs. Rather than hastily axing these positions, we should view sustainable waste management as a green jobs pipeline at a time when New Yorkers are struggling more than ever. 

While recycling is often an easy target for cash-strapped local governments facing a grim fiscal picture, recycling programs cannot simply be switched back on after the economy recovers. Temporary suspension of activities that place our heroic sanitation workers at any additional risk of infection may be necessary, but the cuts to compost collection appear more long-term. Successful diversion programs require widespread public participation, years of ongoing education, and behavior changes by millions of individuals and businesses. Note that the city has only just started to approach the recycling levels achieved two decades ago before Mayor Bloomberg suspended metal, glass and plastic recycling in the aftermath of 9/11.

New data suggest that New Yorkers want to keep composting and recycling during this crisis. In March and the first week of April, residential compost collections continued unabated in the communities where the program is well-established, and New Yorkers separated more food scraps in their brown compost bins this March than they did in March 2019.

Other cities, including San Francisco and Seattle, have continued to treat compost collection as an essential service, despite implementing some of the strictest stay-home orders in the nation. Early reports suggest residents and businesses continue to diligently separate food scraps, yard waste, and other recyclable materials.

We know our leaders care about recycling too. In recent years, the Sanitation Department, the City Council, and the Mayor’s Office have taken critical steps to expand and normalize organic waste recycling. By last year, Sanitation was collecting and recycling about 250 tons of organic material per day.  The city is also poised to require and incentivize greater participation in food waste recycling by businesses, using a new commercial waste zones system. Several elected officials have emerged as champions of organics recycling and sustainable waste management, including City Council Member Antonio Reynoso, who chairs the Council sanitation committee, and Speaker Corey Johnson, both of whom fought to pass the landmark commercial waste zones bill and have called for citywide, mandatory food scrap recycling

These programs should be seen as essential services, cornerstones of our climate mitigation strategy, and a source of good jobs for communities that will desperately need them. New York City must prioritize our recycling and organics composting programs.

Justin Wood is Director of Organizing and Strategic Research at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest. On Twitter @NYLPI.

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Fighting Climate Change and Offering Good Green Jobs: New York City Must Save Its Recycling and Organics Composting Programs Wed, 15 Apr 2020 04:00:00 +0000
A Key Piece of the City’s New Trash Overhaul You May Not Be Aware Of bkrot twitter

(photo: @BKROT)

For most New Yorkers, the city’s private sanitation industry is mostly out of sight, out of mind. Yet it impacts us in major ways. The industry’s old trucks chug and idle along inefficient routes, spewing pollution throughout the city each night. Once collected, the trash is dumped in communities of color, namely north Brooklyn and the south Bronx. Carters make huge profits while paying their predominantly black and brown workers horrendous wages.

Some workers have reported making as little as $80 for a 16-hour shift. Even more disturbing, some carters have created their own “unions” as a way to block legitimate labor organizing.

In 2013, I started a grassroots, organic waste micro-hauling business called BK ROT. At the time, I thought we were creating a small pilot. Six years later, I have come to realize that we’ve created an entire new sector of zero-emissions waste carters that are highly efficient at diverting large amounts of organic waste from landfills in New York City. When BK ROT started, we were the first micro-hauler in NYC, now there are seven across Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, and the Bronx.

BK ROT offers composting services to homes and businesses not serviced by the city’s sanitation department or by private carters. We collect organics by e-bike and process them locally as a fossil fuel-free alternative. The compost is distributed to local farms for growing food. We hire local youth at fair wages in an effort to combat the high unemployment rates in Bushwick and East New York.

From the start, we strived to be a socially-just operation. Our model was simple: good, green jobs that value workers and keep resources flowing within the community. The service fees covered our operations staff (workers ages 17-24) and leveraged our non-profit status for funding for public educational programing. We went from one worker, who started at 16 and is now 24, to a team of six. In 2013 we processed 300 pounds of food waste a month, in 2018 we did 73 tons, and in 2020 we are on track to capture 250 tons.

When New York City initiated reforms to the commercial hauling industry through the Commercial Waste Zone (CWZ) system, we saw an opportunity to integrate micro-hauling into one of the largest private sanitation systems in the world. As a humble grassroots hauling operation, we knew it would be an uphill battle.

From the jump, it felt overly ambitious to demand that our environmentally-conscious hauling service, powered by teenagers on e-bikes, be included in the city’s massive overhaul. Could we find our stride alongside the likes of multi-million-dollar companies, in an industry historically run by the mob?

We struggled to fit our grassroots solution into policy discussions alongside deeply vested interests. As a new type of hauler, policy-makers were puzzled by our innovative model and not sold on our viability. Mid-way through our advocacy, BK ROT ran out of land to process material because we only had 1,000 square feet of space and a growing list of businesses wanting our services. Our collection rates stagnated as we demanded that the draft CWZ legislation allow us to collect more food waste annually.

Demanding a higher annual collection rate would give us the room to scale up as we worked to overcome barriers such as large capital required for new technology and developing compost distribution networks. Instead of partnering with the bad actors in the carting industry just to grow our collection numbers, we doubled down on our commitment to workers, communities, and the planet.

And, we organized.

We connected with Transform, Don’t Trash, a coalition of environmental justice and labor groups who spent years exposing the private carting industry’s abhorrent practices. BK ROT also gained power by forming alliances with emerging micro-haulers, mostly led by women and people of color. Our new bonds helped forge a stronger voice.

We spent nearly devised a tiered system that defined annual hauling capacities (tonnage) for human powered e-bikes and zero emissions vehicles. We codified micro-hauling within the CWZ framework and successfully secured the ability to haul 2,600 tons of food waste per year.

The CWZ is the most progressive waste management reform in decades. The benefits will be felt citywide, but most acutely in communities of color that have suffered through environmental injustices and labor exploitation.

Our inclusion guarantees further emissions reductions in New York City, while diversifying an industry dominated by white men, as New York City’s micro-haulers are minority- and women-owned business enterprises (MWBEs).

I am incredibly proud of BK ROT, and the win for local micro-haulers. I stand with and remain deeply inspired by the Transform, Don’t Trash coalition that played a leading role in demanding sustainability and accountability in our private waste system.

The existential threat of climate change necessitates taking risks and going big on even the most unassuming ideas. Policy-makers must challenge the boundaries of what is seen as possible. Large scale climate mitigation means recognizing the power of grassroots groups and bringing them directly to the policy table.

Sandy Nurse is the Founder and Former Executive Director of BK ROT and a candidate for State Assembly in Brooklyn’s District 54. On Twitter @NurseForNY & @BKROT.

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A Key Piece of the City’s New Trash Overhaul You May Not Be Aware Of Mon, 18 Nov 2019 05:00:00 +0000
A Chore We Must Do: Over-Hauling Private Waste Management in New York City assist parade cleanup

(photo: Michael Anton/Department of Sanitation)

Environmental advocates and labor unions are dissatisfied with New York City’s system of collecting garbage from commercial establishments. Unlike waste from residences, including apartment buildings, which is collected by the city’s Department of Sanitation, waste from office buildings, retail businesses, and restaurants is collected by for-hire companies that charge their customers fees for the service.

Environmentalists decry the traffic and pollution caused by multiple different waste collection companies’ trucks driving all over the city on uncoordinated routes and schedules. Labor unions are concerned about the reliance of many of the smaller waste-haulers on non-unionized workers with low salaries, no benefits, and relatively little in the way of safety protections. These concerns were highlighted by fatal crashes that led to the shutdown of one waste hauling company. 

My former organization, Citizens Budget Commission, has long been concerned about the high costs of New York City’s waste disposal practices; as CBC President I first testified about this issue before the City Council Committee on Sanitation and Solid Waste Management in October 2011.

We published a comprehensive analysis of city solid waste management in 2014. With respect to commercial waste collection, CBC noted that the high number of private carters (as many as 250 in 2014, including those that handle only special types of waste such as construction and medical) has kept collection prices low and minimized corruption, but a more efficient zoned system would minimize congestion and greenhouse gas emissions:

“...the City should shift from “open” competition to competitively awarded franchises for service in designated districts. The franchise should not be given exclusively to one carter but instead limited to a small number of firms. Such “non-exclusive” franchises allow for greater competition and provide greater opportunity for small and medium size businesses to compete…The franchise agreements should include standards for worker safety and vehicle environmental performance.” 

In November 2018, after two years of study and consultation with stakeholders, the Department of Sanitation released a reform plan that largely reflects CBC’s recommendations. As the City Council appears close to movement on solid waste management reform, it would be wise to quickly adopt legislation that includes the key tenets of what CBC and Sanitation have put forward, so that an aggressive but careful multi-year implementation process can begin.

Sanitation proposes a Commercial Waste Zone (CWZ) program that would divide the city into 20 zones. Within each zone carters would compete to win city contracts to provide waste collection services. Three to five carters would be selected in each zone, depending on the density of commercial activity in the zone. Selected carters would have to specify a maximum price, offer recycling and organic collection at discounted rates, and comply with vehicle emission standards. The contracts would last 10 years and the first awards would be made in 2021 with the system to be phased in over the following two years, 2022-2023.

CWZs would be a dramatic change and all change meets resistance. Some carters are opposed to limiting the number of franchisees, fearing that they would not be able to compete and would go out of business. Businesses, especially large ones that are now able to drive a hard bargain, are concerned that collection fees will increase and they will have little leverage to control costs. They also want flexibility to be able to change trash haulers if they believe they can get a better deal or performance isn’t meeting expectations.

Environmentalists contend that there should be only one carter per zone to achieve the maximum reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Labor unions want the better salary and benefits that union-only employees would receive and that only very large collection firms that have exclusive franchises can assure. 

The City Council Sanitation Committee chair, Antonio Reynoso, has been a strong advocate of some environmentally–oriented waste management policies, like charging for single-use plastic bags and curbside collection of organic waste. Now, he has taken the lead on CWZs by introducing legislation to create franchise zones.

His bill provides for only one franchisee per zone. The enviro/labor groups are pleased, but the business community is very concerned about the prospect of dramatically increased waste collection fees and a loss of customer choice. They point to the recent experience in Los Angeles, which adopted single-vendor zones and prices for some companies quadrupled.  (The LA system is quite different and much larger and more expensive in that it applies to multi-family residential as well as commercial waste collection.)

As they say, the mark of a good compromise is that all stakeholders are somewhat dissatisfied. CWZs will require significant readjustments by the Department of Sanitation, the city’s Business Integrity Commission ( which licenses carters), the business community, and the waste collection industry; it would be wise to move resolutely but carefully.

Moving from what is essentially a free-for-all to a highly constrained and regulated system is probably too much to do all at once. The Department of Sanitation’s proposal to allow several franchisees per zone would give businesses some price and quality leverage to select among a few competitor vendors. It would enable some of the smaller waste haulers to remain in business while elevating the quality of equipment and safety of the industry citywide.

Studies indicate that as much as 85% of the greenhouse gas emission reductions to be gained from a CWZ system would be achieved by limiting franchisees to a small number. So while it may not be the more categorical result that some would prefer, let’s hope that the Council doesn’t let the perfect become the enemy of the very good.

The Sanitation Department’s proposal is a thoughtful balancing of interests and concerns. Hopefully some areas of compromise can be found so that the Council can adopt CWZ legislation in the fall and adjustments can be made, if needed, after the city has some experience with the new system. But the time to act is now.

Carol Kellermann was president of Citizens Budget Commission from 2008 through 2018.

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A Chore We Must Do: Over-Hauling Private Waste Management in New York City Wed, 31 Jul 2019 04:00:00 +0000
After Rightly Declaring Climate Crisis, the Next Important Step for the City Council city council press

Council Member Reynoso (photo: John McCarten/City Council)

It is heartening that the New York City Council recently voted unanimously to declare a state of climate crisis. 2019 has already brought a string of droughts, record-breaking heat waves, crop failures, and storms, and it is obvious that this is the challenge of our lifetimes.

Having declared an emergency, now comes the time for swift additional action. After state and city lawmakers passed mandatory building retrofits, congestion pricing, and statewide emissions reductions, the next major climate bill our local government must pass is the Commercial Waste Zone Bill (Intro. 1574 before the City Council).

What does garbage from New York City’s more than 100,000 businesses have to do with global warming?  

Our office buildings, pizzerias, hospitals, and grocery stores send about 2.2 million tons of waste per year to landfills and incinerators, where it slowly decomposes and produces methane, a climate pollutant 28 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

When it comes to basic recycling and composting of waste, New York’s business sector lags far behind cities like Seattle and San Francisco, which currently diverts 65% or more of their commercial waste. We simply will not meet our climate goals if we do not tackle our wasteful sanitation industry. 

Second, the 90 or so private companies that collect New York City’s commercial waste exist in a highly dysfunctional “Wild West” system in which they operate inefficient truck routes, cut corners on recycling, and pressure workers to complete dangerous and grueling shifts, as the owners attempt to compete for customers and ensure profits. Exhaustive studies commissioned by the City have found that this scheme results in 18 million unnecessary truck miles per year -- enough to drive to the moon and back 37 times.  

But, less tangibly, it also means that investments in better recycling facilities, customer education, and waste reduction initiatives such as food rescue are a low or nonexistent priority for the city’s private waste industry.

The City Council can enact a common-sense, proven solution to this decades-old mess. The commercial waste zones bill (Intro. 1574) sponsored by Brooklyn Council Member Antonio Reynoso will make this system far more rational and safe by selecting a single, high-performing waste company for each commercial zone.

After selecting 20 or so providers through a competitive bidding process, the City can hold these haulers accountable to high customer service, environmental, and safety standards through comprehensive, enforceable contracts.  

With the right incentives to make investments and adopt industry best practices, the new system can rapidly achieve the same recycling and composting rates as successful west coast cities -- which would prevent a whopping 2 million tons of greenhouse gas pollutants each year by reducing the huge amount of business waste trucked to landfills. That is equivalent to removing one in five cars from New York City streets.

Moreover, we would create hundreds of new, green jobs in and near our city as recycling and composting facilities employ far more workers than do transfer stations, landfills, and incinerators.

Moving the needle on climate emissions is a daunting challenge that will require action in every sector of our economy. The good news is that we don’t need to wait for further studies or new technologies to change our highly polluting private waste system.

Dozens of other cities have adopted similar zoned or franchised commercial waste systems, and many have rapidly increased their recycling rates while maintaining excellent customer service and fair prices for their business communities.

It would be a huge lost opportunity if the fear-mongering by a few well-financed business  interests were to delay the passage of this common-sense, historic reform. We applaud the Council for naming climate change as a crisis, and call on Council members to pass the Commercial Waste Zone bill this summer.

Justin Wood is Director of Organizing and Strategic Research at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest. On Twitter @NYLPI.

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After Rightly Declaring Climate Crisis, the Next Important Step for the City Council Tue, 09 Jul 2019 04:00:00 +0000
We Need Commercial Waste Reform, and Now We Have a Plan city council cm cornegy

Council Member Cornegy, the author (photo: Emil Cohen/City Council)

New Yorkers have good reason to be concerned, even angry, about the state of affairs in our city's commercial waste industry. Stakeholders and commentators are absolutely right to note that, among other issues to address, the tragic loss of life in this industry is unacceptable.

However, agreement on the importance of cleaning up commercial waste carting does not change the fact that a huge question is still on the table: How can we actually achieve our shared goals as quickly and effectively as possible?

In many ways, the answer lies in comments made just this week by Mayor de Blasio, when he said, "I hope that we can really strengthen the hand of the Business Integrity Commission, give them a lot more tools, a lot more teeth to work with in their regulation of that industry."

My colleagues in the City Council and I have introduced legislation, known as Intro. 996, which would do that by empowering the Business Integrity Commission (BIC) to raise standards in the commercial waste industry and hold bad actors accountable.

Our bill would enable BIC to create standardized safety certifications for industry employees and institute requirements that ensure workers are properly trained. It would also give BIC the tools to establish clear rules regarding allowable levels of emissions for commercial waste trucks. Additionally, the bill would empower BIC to more stringently regulate the industry with regard to maximizing efficiency along each waste collection route.

These are just several examples of how Intro. 996 would give BIC more of the tools and teeth that Mayor de Blasio has said are necessary for advancing commercial waste carting reforms. Our legislation would also let BIC establish its own task force to offer additional insight and recommendations for continuing to improve this industry over the long-term.

On the other hand, Mayor de Blasio's own Department of Sanitation has offered a nebulous and flawed proposal to develop commercial waste zones, which would replace the industry's current open market system with a series of geographic zones that are exclusively contracted to a small number of waste carters.

First, Sanitation’s proposal is not squarely focused on advancing the mayor's stated goal of empowering BIC. By relying on a fundamental restructuring of the industry, this plan would essentially take power away from BIC rather than giving it more of the tools it needs to regulate carting companies.

There is also the issue of unintended consequences. It is common knowledge by now that the zone-based waste collection plan implemented last year in Los Angeles had a truly disastrous rollout. Prices and service complaints skyrocketed, leading to a chaotic situation that, if it were to happen in New York, would surely make it extremely difficult to achieve our shared goals.

The Department of Sanitation’s own 2016 report, released as part of introducing its waste zone proposal, acknowledged that costs for small businesses that are served by this industry would increase under a zone-based plan. Additionally, the report acknowledged that zones would lead to job losses in the industry - and I do not think that efforts to increase safety have to include putting people out of work.

To be clear, I am ready to advance commercial waste carting reforms now and deliver results on increasing safety, reducing environmental impact and increasing regulatory oversight. And I want to achieve this in the way that Mayor de Blasio himself has articulated - by giving BIC more of the tools and teeth it needs.

Now is the time to translate our concerns about this industry into tangible, sensible, and effective action - we just need to get it done.

Robert E. Cornegy, Jr. represents the central Brooklyn communities of Bedford Stuyvesant and northern Crown Heights in the New York City Council. On Twitter @RobertCornegyJr.

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We Need Commercial Waste Reform, and Now We Have a Plan Thu, 19 Jul 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Council Sanitation Chair Says Mayor Must Get ‘Bold’ on Waste Management reynoso ready nyc

Council Member Reynoso, middle (photo: @JoeEspoNYC)

“Trash — it’s not sexy,” said City Council Member Antonio Reynoso. “It’s the hardest thing to get people to care about and it’s also something that’s out of sight and out of mind because it gets picked up -- for the most part, the Department of Sanitation does a great job.”

But there’s a lot about trash -- waste management, really -- to discuss, and Reynoso is at the forefront of the conversations as chair of the City Council’s sanitation committee, a position he has held for more than four years, continuing in the post into a second and final term.

Reynoso discussed major waste management issues facing New York City during a recent appearance on the What’s The [Data] Point? podcast from Gotham Gazette and Citizens Budget Commission, touching on regulating the private caring industry, which is the source of a great deal of controversy; changing the waste-hauling zones in the city to reduce pollution and increase efficiency; mandating more recycling from New Yorkers, such as of solid food waste, also known as composting; and more.

Reynoso, who represents a district that includes Williamsburg, Bushwick, and Ridgewood, crossing from Brooklyn into Queens, and a lot of the city’s manufacturing space. Many of his constituents rely on the L train, and Reynoso touched upon the line’s looming closure.

Born in Williamsburg to immigrant parents, Reynoso was the chief of staff for City Council Member Diana Reyna before he ran for the Council in 2013 and defeated former Assemblymember Vito Lopez in the Democratic Party.

“Scandal hit [Lopez] very hard,” Reynoso said on the podcast, referring to the fact that Lopez had been forced from the Assembly over a sexual harassment scandal. “He tried to run and I went against him, people still bet on me to lose. I didn’t get all the endorsements, surprisingly, but I won. I was very fortunate, my community had my back, I had people around me, and it was a very joyous moment for me.”

Reynoso easily won the general election in a heavily Democratic district and cruised to reelection in 2017. Throughout his time in the Council, he has chaired the sanitation committee and had oversight of key agencies related to trash, snow, and more.

In New York, every commercial establishment that will not heave its own trash is obliged by law to have its waste removed by a private carter licensed by the Business Integrity Commission. There are more than 200 carters licensed by the BIC that can lawfully gather trash from commercial establishments in the city.

However, many of these carters have bad safety records and recent journalism, largely by ProPublica, has exposed the rogue and dangerous world of private carting. Reynoso said the BIC, which was originally an anti-organized crime unit, is failing to regulate the city’s private waste industry, even after two deaths involving Sanitation Salvage, a private carter, in the last six months.

“They were put in to weed out organized crime and they’ve done a great job at doing that, but they also have other responsibilities and one of those responsibilities is regulating this industry relating to safety as well,” Reynoso said of BIC. “They’ve never done that.”

Not only is better safety regulation of private carters essential, Reynoso said, but the city must also return to a zoned system for collections, where a small number of companies wins contracts for certain geographic areas.

“It’s funny, they had a zone system when they had organized crime because they knew it was more efficient and they knew it was more profitable — you can’t make this stuff up,” Reynoso said. “The only problem is that their zoning was corrupt. We would be doing it in a way that’s fair.”

A plan is expected soon from the de Blasio administration with proposed zones and other regulations.

Reynoso discussed the importance of requiring what he called “mandatory organics recycling.” This would involve adding organics to the list of required recyclables that already includes metal, glass, plastic, and paper.

“It’s eggshells, it’s food, all that stuff you throw away,” Reynoso said. “Once you seperate it, you’ll notice that maybe 5% of your trash is not organics or recycling and that would help considerably.”

For this directive to work it must be compulsory, not voluntary, Reynoso said.

“We have to mandate that,” Reynoso said. “We can’t tell people ‘We’re going to let you volunteer or it’s a choice.’ We don’t work with choice. Unfortunately in the city of New York, you have to tell us what to do or we won’t do it.”

Throughout the podcast, Reynoso repeatedly emphasized the word “bold” in discussing the need for the city to pursue and see real change.

“To be honest, being bold is the thing that we lack here in New York City when it comes to trash,” Reynoso said. “Almost everywhere else, whether it’s immigration, housing or education, people are trying to do something. A community school here, a sanctuary city there, there’s an attempt at something bold to change the landscape of what we consider a crisis, but not sanitation.”

He called on Mayor de Blasio to take the lead.

“Being bold — having someone like a mayor that would be able to say ‘We’re going to do this, this is what’s going to happen, it’s my last four years, it’s good for the future of the City of New York so I’m going to stand up and do it.’” Reynoso said. “If we don’t see that, we’re going to have trouble and it’s not going to change.”

Beyond trash and sanitation, Reynoso was briefly asked about the upcoming L train shutdown, which will begin in 2019 and force hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who use the subway line to go between Manhattan and Brooklyn every day to find alternate routes.

In 2012, Hurricane Sandy flooded the Canarsie Tunnel under the East River with gallons of salt water, which caused critical destruction. The MTA has released a wide-ranging plan to alleviate the consequences of the eventual stoppage, including a busway and bikeway in Manhattan and increased subway service throughout the city on other lines. A number of details still need to be worked out, some of which rely on the city’s Department of Transportation.

Reynoso said an audacious effort by DOT is required for city transportation to run smoothly following the shutdown.

“We’re going to have a hard time here,” Reynoso said. “We’ll see the crisis in the first three weeks and DOT has to be very flexible to be able to fix it…I want them to be bold.”

He said the DOT has not planned enough change on the Williamsburg Bridge for a smooth transition. He is calling for an exclusive bus lane that runs 24/7 and the importance of shutting down streets for pedestrians, buses, and bikes.

“We really need to start looking at how to move around the city of New York outside of vehicles. DOT has a perfect chance to prove that they can do it here…you have an opportunity, there’s a crisis, take advantage of it.”

[Listen: What's The [Data] Point? 1,988, with Antonio Reynoso]

by Jordan Kimmel, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Council Sanitation Chair Says Mayor Must Get ‘Bold’ on Waste Management Mon, 11 Jun 2018 04:00:00 +0000
An Essential Agreement on Carting Safety, and More to Come  carting

(photo: @laborers108)

A quiet announcement recently by the Business Integrity Commission - the watchdog agency that regulates the city’s food and fish wholesale markets, commercial waste services, and shipboard gambling - is unlikely to be etched in the history books or remembered for decades to come.

But it marked a significant turning point in an unnecessarily contentious dialogue between city officials and the companies that daily manage 12,000 tons of waste, recyclables, and organics generated by the city’s businesses and institutions – as well as labor leaders, and environmental and transportation safety advocates.

The announcement – a new safety manual for the city’s trade waste sector – is the result of an unprecedented collaboration.

Traditionally, commercial waste is an industry that everyone loves to hate – its big, loud trucks; its late-night collections; and its odors make it an easy target for vilification. It’s easier to blame others for the garbage all of us generate and we wish to forget, and to take for granted what’s required every night, 365 days a year, to keep our city clean, productive, and ready for the next day.

This new manual pulls together best practices for every step of the process from putting a truck on the road through its safe return every morning with its driver and helper aboard, without damage to people or property with which it might interact while on the streets.

That’s no easy job. In fact, waste-related jobs are among the top five most dangerous in the nation.

The just-published manual arose from the creation of an advisory board to guide the city’s controversial intention to replace the open-market system that promotes efficiency, choice, competition, and innovation with a system of geographic zones and exclusive franchise rights.

While we strongly disagree with the zone-based initiative, the effort led by BIC Commissioner Brownell proved that other approaches are possible – with actual results sooner, better and cheaper than waiting five years or more for a system with city government-initiated contracts to be designed, adopted, and implemented. In that same period, multiple safety initiatives could be implemented – all trucks soon will have cleaner engines, most new trucks will have cameras and all with have sideguards, and more frequent safety training could be initiated, with active engagement with the industry’s leading unions.

All that is necessary is commitment, and good-faith efforts by all concerned. If nothing else, safety is a “safe space” for those who chose to be adversaries on other matters.

This joint effort provides two takeaways:

First, the commercial waste industry – nationally and locally – makes safety a high priority.

Local efforts include semi-annual industry-city symposiums focused on safety (the fourth is scheduled for April); installation of protective side-guards; and renewed commitments to employee training, proper management, and personal protective equipment.

Second, safety requires “continuous improvement,” it’s never “over.” To be successful, the effort must be maintained by all concerned.

We know that safety is not an event, achieved through a single action. To that end, the new safety manual isn’t the first safety-focused effort and it won’t be the last.

We share commitment to the de Blasio administration’s Vision Zero goals and new solutions to street-design, traffic control, and street-sharing, which are impressive in their results to make the city a safer place to walk, bike, and drive.

But we also recognize the daily challenges of operating safely with heavy equipment, picking up bags, moving containers, and at night, in all kinds of weather, and under less than ideal conditions.

Unfortunately, safety is the only working group formed. Perhaps others now will be initiated with good-faith efforts by all concerned to improve licensing, operations, and labor standards, as well as effective zero waste initiatives.

Beyond safety, we hope the collaborative effort that created this manual will serve as a model for how disparate stakeholders can find effective ways to work together to address a compelling public issue.

Fritz Schneider is business manager of Laborers Local 108. Jose Maldonado is principal of Maldonado Associates, LLC and senior advisor to New Yorkers for Responsible Waste Management, and previously served as commissioner of the city’s Business Integrity Commission. On Twitter @laborers108.

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An Essential Agreement on Carting Safety, and More to Come Sun, 04 Mar 2018 05:00:00 +0000