A win for big building owners in trash-collection fight

Current disposal method preserved in reform legislation

TRD New York /
Oct.October 15, 2019 04:00 PM
An example of roll-off waste management (Credit: YouTube, iStock)

An example of roll-off waste management (Credit: YouTube, iStock)

When the City Council introduced its controversial bill in the spring to remake the commercial trash-hauling industry, it made no mention of protecting a form of garbage pickup that’s used by hundreds of the city’s largest buildings.

But after industry groups applied pressure, the city now plans to maintain the ability of office towers and other major trash producers to have their waste hauled off in containers rather than by the packer trucks that do curbside collection.

City Council member Antonio Reynoso introduced his reform bill in late May, which seeks to cut down on greenhouse emissions by limiting the number of trash haulers citywide. But the proposed legislation omitted a form of container pickup used by about 500 customers in the city whereby a container is rolled onto a truck bed at a loading dock and transported directly to a waste-transfer station.

“There are very large buildings where there are very large collections where they fill up a [truck container],” Department of Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia said at a Crain’s forum in Midtown.

A new draft of the bill circulated last week included the containerized-disposal language sought by the Real Estate Board of New York and the Greater New York Hospital Association, sources said.

Garcia said Tuesday that Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration supports the measure because it preserves an eco-friendly method of waste collection.

REBNY and the hospitals group made the case to the administration and Reynoso that containerized disposal is more efficient than route-based collection and should continue. The legislation, as drafted, would allow the sanitation commissioner to authorize up to five providers of collection using containers. About seven to 10 haulers provide that service now in the city.

Zachary Steinberg, vice president of policy and planning at REBNY, said in a statement that making sure buildings can use containers to manage their waste is “critical to the success of any commercial waste reform plan.”

Conversations about authorizing container service began in the spring, said Kendall Christiansen, a representative of some carting companies. A container of more than 10 cubic yards dedicated for recyclables or organics would also be allowed under the draft bill.

The real estate industry is still generally unhappy about Reynoso’s legislation, which could be passed by the council as soon as Oct. 30, because it will limit or eliminate commercial users’ ability to choose a waste hauler. It would establish 20 zones and allow the Sanitation commissioner to select up to three haulers to compete for curbside collection in each one — a severe reduction from the approximately 50 carters providing that service today.

The City Council and the de Blasio’s administration have been advancing zone collection as a way to reduce the industry’s carbon emissions and improve safety by curtailing its nightly routes, which can exceed 100 miles. The measure would not affect residential collection, which is handled exclusively by the Department of Sanitation.

Only about 25 active haulers have enough trucks to take part in the process by which the commissioner will select winners for each zone, and the draft bill offers no guarantee that more than one will be picked for a given zone, Christiansen said. The real estate industry has argued for several years that the result would likely be higher prices and worse service.

The initial proposal, championed by environmental-justice organizations and environmentalists, called for one carter per zone, but last month Reynoso compromised, apparently because there was not enough political support for exclusive zones. Garcia has said she does not want to create monopolies.

A future sanitation commissioner could still choose only one carter for a zone under the draft bill. The real estate and carting industries want a minimum of three per zone, if there have to be zones at all, and continue to push for the bill to say that.

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