The waste collection system used by New York City’s businesses is “inefficient, ad-hoc and chaotic” and causes direct harm to a handful of low-income communities of color, says a report released yesterday.

What’s more, the way commercial trash is handled in New York will make it difficult for the city to meet its recently adopted commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050, the report claims.

New York City produces roughly 21,000 tons of solid waste every day; over half of that trash comes from private businesses.

The report released yesterday, prepared by Transform Don’t Trash NYC, a coalition of environmental justice organizations and labor unions, found that:

  • New York City’s businesses generate about 5.5 million tons of waste annually—2 million tons more than previously estimated.
  • Hundreds of private hauling companies collect waste from businesses nightly using “overlapping” and “inefficient” truck routes. The trash is delivered to transfer stations and recycling facilities concentrated in just a handful of communities. This waste is then transferred to long-haul trucks and taken to landfills in several states.
  • The recycling rate for commercial trash is about 25 percent, “significantly worse” than the 40 percent commercial recycling rate claimed by the Bloomberg administration, and lower than the national average of 34.5 percent. The recycling rate for NYC’s major private haulers could be even lower—only 9 to 13 percent in 2014, according to reports filed by waste companies with the state.
  • Emissions of methane and other greenhouse gases from landfills storing NYC residential and commercial waste have been estimated at 2.2 million tons per year, and “are probably much higher given new estimates of the amount of waste generated by the city’s business sector.”

What’s Next?

Advocates say they will push the New York City Council to draft legislation to “bring the industry into the 21st century.”

The Council’s Sanitation Committee will hold a public oversight hearing on the commercial waste industry next week, April 29th. Representatives of the waste industry and the City will presumably also be on hand to discuss the state of commercial trash collection.



  • Bookmark2015

    The problem begins with the generation of those things that become waste after a very short life–packaging in particular. Governments are very reluctant to put restrictions and limits on such generation because of the perception that it is bad for business. Instead governments put all the responsibility for the waste on the individual.

    But when government does place a direct value on such stuff, it can effectively stimulate a sustainable waste management program as seen in the nickel deposit on bottles and alum. cans. A whole sustainable industry of hand collecting these items has even developed around the value placed on those items that were once perceived as ordinary trash. While many NY’ers don’t follow the city recycling law, there are others who help correct that situation by retrieving, and salvaging throwaways that have monetary value. Might government take a hard look at the bulk of categories of things being thrown out and figure out how to attach value to them? That would bring a reduction in the waste stream, and there would also be those who would capitalize on that value when some don’t bother following the recycle rules.