With 28 deaths attributed to private garbage trucks since 2010, elected officials criticized the private waste hauling industry as disorganized, dangerous and harmful to the environment.
“For years and years, we accepted a status quo,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio at a bill signing ceremony last week for legislation overhauling the way commercial waste is collected. “Lives were lost, workers were cheated, communities were polluted, and ultimately our earth was endangered.”
Under the new system, DSNY will designate 20 zones for trash collection throughout the five boroughs, each to be served by up to three private carters selected by the city.
An additional one citywide zone will be allocated for containerized pick up, served by no more than five carters.
The intention behind the new law is to create a more efficient, transparent and safer system of collection by cutting the number of commercial waste trucks on the road in half, and introducing strict standards for carting companies.
The law mandates companies to provide safety training for drivers and other employees, as well as report to a safety task force run by the Sanitation Department, DSNY Commissioner Kathryn Garcia told reporters during a media briefing before the bill was signed into law.
The legislation supports the rights of commercial waste employees by enforcing minimum wage compliance, whistleblower protections and other labor laws. It also orders a displaced worker list to promote local hiring, as well as measures to ensure employees aren’t affected by mergers that may occur.
In accordance with the City’s Green New Deal initiative, last week’s bill requires carters to collect recycling and organics at a discounted price.
Interested private carting companies will be awarded contracts with DSNY through a request for proposals (RFP) process, which is not yet detailed.
The department will base its evaluation on past compliance with industry regulations, in conjunction with submitted proposals to achieve zero waste goals and follow other standards put in place by the law.
Each carting company is limited to a scope of 15 zones, with the ability to employ two subcontractors. Businesses will be able to choose between the three selected carters for their respective zones.
Garcia assures that all carters will be held responsible for sustaining fair pricing, as well as high standards of customer service. Consequences include fees, fines and even termination of contracts.
Though DSNY claims the zone system is designed to allow smaller local carters to be competitive, the program has come under fire from small businesses and the organizations that support them.
Those opposing the law regard it as monopolistic, inevitably leading to increased costs and decreased service quality for local businesses that can no longer negotiate with providers of their choice.
Industry experts also contest the city’s reported data on the quantity of private carters collecting waste across the city, challenging that the number is closer to 45 than 90. According to their analysis, 20 of those companies have three trucks or less and are unlikely to survive in the new market.
Even if a small carter is awarded the opportunity to service a commercial waste zone, there is no guarantee of customers.
“It is impossible to predict all of the possible scenarios,” wrote Kendall Christiansen, executive director of New Yorkers for Responsible Waste Management, an association of approximately 25 locally owned and operated waste service providers, in an email.
“But it would be likely that a larger/dominant company would have a distinct advantage in gaining initial market-share, and that a smaller operator would struggle,” he added.
For Christiansen and the companies represented by Responsible Waste Management, there is a long way to go in terms of understanding how DSNY will back up its assurance that small carters will be competitive in the selection process.
“Beyond the rhetoric, there's nothing in the law itself that addresses that question, either in a statement of intentions or any specific provisions,” he argued. “It might be possible that as the RFP is developed that some guardrails and/or incentives might be considered to promote that outcome. But as of yet no such ideas have been proposed or advanced, and are not part of the public record.”
Implementation of commercial waste zoning legislation begins with setting the borders of each pickup zone and establishing regulations for carting companies. DSNY expects to release the RFP this coming May, and begin transitioning businesses mid-2021.