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Industry nears deal on trash collection

After months of haggling over how to haul millions of tons of garbage from New York’s streets, the city could vote on a new plan as early as this month.

New legislation would carve the city into zones where three trucking companies would be allowed to operate.

Another five companies would be permitted to bid for hauling commercial waste thatʼs packed in ready-to-transport containers.

Corey Johnson

“We have been working hard and have made significant progress on this bill because we believe that implementing commercial waste zones will benefit all New Yorkers,” said City Council speaker Corey Johnson, one of the bill’s sponsors.

“This policy will make our air cleaner, our streets safer, and provide better customer service to businesses throughout the city.”

Though the legislation could be held up as stakeholders offer feedback, word is that it could be voted on as early as October 30 when the Council holds its next stated meeting.

The deal comes after months of bickering over the original legislation proposed by Council Member Antonio Reynoso that would have allowed just one garbage company to operate in each commercial zone.

While they agreed that would reduce traffic, fatalities and carbon emissions, real estate industry leaders said such a move would create a monopoly and lead to inflated prices.

Daniel Avery, director of legislative affairs for the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA), said his group is still looking into what it means for owners.

“We won’t know what it’s going to look like until RFPs start going out,” he said. 

According to Avery, the industry does expect prices to rise but has been more concerned by the possibility of a lack of competition causing a decline in the level of service.

BOMA, he noted, represents many owners of buildings that containerize their waste, and this means the waste has to be carted by a vehicle that can accommodate the over-sized container.

DANIEL AVERY

“For a lot of these buildings, there’s a small window where they can get service,” said Avery. “If they can get just one company, they’re going to show up when they want to show up.”

As for the new caps the bill would set, Avery said, “I think four to five (companies in a zone) made a lot of sense. But three’s better than one.” 

A spokeswoman for the Department of Sanitation said, “The Department of Sanitation fully supports a non-exclusive model with multiple carters operating in each zone, allowing each customer to choose a carter that best meets its specific service and pricing needs, while assuring that all carters operate efficiently and are vetted by the City’s rigorous selection process. A non-exclusive system achieves very similar efficiency and emissions improvements compared to a monopoly system, while avoiding the large disruption to the market and customers that would come with having only one carter per zone.”

While the real estate industry has been on board with regulations that would make the system safer, greener and more efficient, there have been concerns that zoning commercial garbage collection would create a platform for price fixing.

The new legislation would give the Department of Sanitation authority to set minimum prices as well and govern workers’ safety training.

It would also limit the use of subcontractors and reward contractors who are compliant with local health laws and take efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Additionally, licenses could be yanked if carters are found to have committed certain violations, like illegal dumping. Smaller revisions include limiting a contract to two-years in length and requiring that companies maintain records for five years or longer.

Manhattan businesses generate approximately 25,000 tons of waste per week. Currently, there are about 90 different carting companies that collect commercial waste in the city’s five boroughs, using about 1,000 trucks. The vast majority of those private carting companies have customers in Manhattan.

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