Transform Don’t Trash NYC, the campaign to clean up New York City’s dirty commercial sanitation industry, is picking up steam. The coalition of environmental justice, worker organizations and community groups (including PWF affiliate ALIGN) has been working for three years to expose problems in the industry and push a transformative vision of change. With City Hall recently taking the first steps toward addressing the issue, real change toward a cleaner, safer waste and recycling system may be just around the corner.
New York City has two parallel sanitation systems and they could not be more different. The City’s Department of Sanitation collects residential waste, while businesses are on their own to find a private waste hauler to remove their trash. The public system is 100% unionized, offering good wages, benefits and safety programs, while the commercial system is rife with non-union companies offering low-pay jobs and skirting safety standards.
Likewise, the city has invested heavily in state-of-the-art trucks and facilities to boost its recycling rate and reduce pollution. Meanwhile, the private sanitation industry which oversees commercial waste in the city by in large does not recycle even basic materials like metal, glass and plastic.
On Earth Day 2015, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced New York’s plans to achieve Zero Waste by 2030. To accomplish this goal, the city began studying whether to transform the way commercial waste is collected. Transform Don’t Trash NYC (TDT) proposed comprehensive reform to the broken commercial waste system that would create exclusive zones for waste haulers to limit traffic and pollution and strengthened oversight in expanding recycling and providing safe, good jobs.
Policies like the one proposed by TDT have been enacted elsewhere with great effect. Cities like Seattle and San Jose have commercial recycling rates two to three times higher than New York due to similar policies. Most recently, the City of Los Angeles passed a sweeping reform of its commercial waste policy that will further increase recycling rates. Partnership for Working Families (PWF) affiliate LAANE spearheaded that effort as part of the Don't Waste LA Coalition. PWF, along with key worker organizations and environmental justice allies, is incubating a national movement to slow climate change and create good jobs through waste industry transformation.
As the anticipated release of the city study approaches, support for TDT’s proposal is growing. Last year, the Working Families Party and the Natural Resources Defense Council, bellwethers of progressive and environmental politics, both joined the campaign. In March, two former Sanitation Department officials, including a former commissioner, endorsed the policy as well.
With momentum building in the streets and action budding in City Hall, 2016 will likely be the year that New York City turns the corner to a more just and sustainable commercial sanitation system.