Justin Woods Testimony to the Committees on Sanitation and Small Business Regarding Local Law 199
New York Lawyers for the Public Interest
to the Committees on Sanitation and Small Business on February 22, 2023 Regarding
Implementation of Local Law 199 (Commercial Waste Zones) and Intros 493 and 933.
Good afternoon. My name is Justin Wood, and I am the Director of Policy at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYLPI). We are a founding member of the Transform Don’t Trash NYC coalition which for almost ten years has advocated for fundamental reform of the city’s sprawling, inefficient, dangerous, and environmentally harmful private sanitation system. Thank you to Chairs Nurse and Menin for holding this hearing and for the opportunity to testify today.
Robust and rapid implementation of Local Law 199 is critical to address climate emissions and will make our businesses more sustainable.
The Commercial Waste Zone system will be a win for safer streets, better working conditions, climate, and environmental justice.
Specifically, from a small business perspective, our city needs to move full speed ahead with implementation of Commercial Waste Zones to give our businesses far more opportunities to recycle, compost, and donate the huge quantities of waste that private haulers currently truck to landfills and incinerators. According to New York Climate Action Council’s Scoping Plan, waste is responsible for 12% of our greenhouse gas emissionsi – a higher proportion than previously estimated by the City – and reducing the amount of waste landfilled and incinerated is a top priority in this sector.
The uniform data collection, reporting requirements, and zero waste plans that will be part of the CWZ contracts required by Local Law 199 are urgently needed to:
- a) fully assess the quantities of NYC commercial waste going to landfills and incinerators;
- b) design comprehensive programs to ensure that food donation, composting, and recycling are rapidly scaled up; and
- c) ensure that small businesses and large businesses alike have access to recycling and food donation programs that are accessible, easy to use, transparent, and which would result in cost savings compared to landfilling and incineration.
The sooner we can accomplish these goals, the sooner New Yorkers will be able to enjoy the benefits the Commercial Waste Zones law was designed to bring, both to the climate and to small businesses and the economy.
While data on the current, chaotic commercial waste system remains murky, the information we do have suggests that recycling, composting, and food donation services remain piecemeal and that NYC recycling rates may have declined in the last few years as CWZ implementation has been delayed, further pressing the need for robust and rapid implementation:
- DSNY testified in a January 30th hearing on food donation that enforcement of existing commercial recycling rules is minimal, even since the expansion of commercial organics rules last year.
- Annual reports for transfer stations and recycling facilities suggest that recycling rates may have declined in recent years. At one major combined transfer station and recycling facility, only 12% of commercial material was diverted in 2021, down from 18% in 2019.
- These statistics are confirmed by what we can see and smell in our streets every night when mountains of garbage bags are set out for commercial waste collection. A group of NYLPI volunteers did a “spot check” on commercial food waste generation last summer in Manhattan, as enforcement of organics rules was set to begin. What we saw was shocking – large bags of fresh, edible bread, bagels, vegetables, and just-expiring dairy products in black trash bags on the street set for disposal, even at large chain businesses that claim to be composting.
We need to ensure that large and small businesses alike have access to reliable, affordable, and convenient recycling, composting, and food donation services and that intensive, ongoing customer education and waste assessments are available in multiple languages throughout the transition to the new CWZ system. We appreciate DSNY’s January 30th testimony that the CWZ system could be used to make food donation programs more accessible to businesses and to better track quantities of donated food.
Existing, innovative businesses in the waste sector are ready to scale up to meet these needs including local micro haulers, food rescue organizations, and waste auditors. The upcoming contract negotiations with designated haulers are a key opportunity to create
effective and replicable waste diversion strategies across various business sectors throughout the city, and to assess progress via the data to be publicly reported in the new CWZ system.
New York continues to lag cities with efficient, high-diversion commercial waste systems.
Cities with well-designed commercial waste systems based on efficient zones and comprehensive, enforceable contracts have continued to outperform NYC on commercial waste diversion even during a pandemic that disrupted so many sectors of the economy.
In 2021, Seattle’s commercial sector diverted 63% of waste from disposal, and composted an impressive 20% of the commercial waste stream while emerging from a pandemic that upended business on the whole.ii This is because they continue to utilize robust commercial system governed by robust contracts with only a few commercial waste companies that ensures that small and large businesses alike have functioning, transparent, and fairly priced composting and recycling services that are easy to use.
Similarly, San Francisco has continued to offer the “Fantastic Three” recycling and composting service to small businesses and residential customers alike through a single contracted waste hauler, with collection fees discounted for compost and recycling bins. The combined diversion rate for small business and residential customers remains above 50% after falling off pre-pandemic peaks of as high as 60%.iii
Los Angeles, which implemented a franchised commercial and multifamily waste system in 2017, is now expanding composting as a universal, mandatory recycling service in all multifamily buildings, which are served by the same private sanitation companies contracted to serve businesses.iv One of the features of the RecycLA system is an aggressive and enforceable disposed-waste reduction target in each zone which strongly incentivizes haulers to invest in recycling and composting services, robust customer education, and local food donation programs.
It is promising that the largest waste provider in the city met its diversion target, reducing disposed waste by an impressive 27% from 2019-2020. While other contracted haulers fell short of their targets, many reported substantial reductions in disposed tonnage in their zones.v
As curbside residential compost services expand, DSNY should use CWZ implementation to create consistent source-separation rules and incentivize waste reduction practices in the commercial sector.
Currently, New Yorkers face a confusing and inconsistent set of recycling practices that vary widely between their homes, workplaces, restaurants and stores, and public spaces like parks and transit facilities.
This patchwork – and a complete absence of visible recycling practices in many commercial spaces – lacks transparency, erodes public trust in recycling systems, and contributes to declining recycling rates even as waste diversion becomes a more urgent strategy to address the climate crisis.
The recent announcement that DSNY will expand its voluntary residential curbside composting service citywide is a major step in the right direction. To build trust and educate New Yorkers about effective recycling behaviors, synchronization of residential, business, and public space source separation practices through CWZ implementation is more important than ever.
Intro 493 is needed to advance environmental justice and efficiency in the commercial waste system.
We support immediate passage and implementation of Intro 493, which would require DSNY to create a plan to accept commercial waste at the Department’s marine and rail transfer stations.
Investment in publicly owned, state-of-the-art marine and rail transfer stations has been a priority for environmental justice communities that for decades have handled far too much of New York City’s residential and commercial waste through clusters of dangerous and polluting truck-based transfer stations.
Investment in DSNY’s marine and rail transfer stations has been a priority for environmental justice communities that for decades have handled the far too much of New York City’s residential and commercial waste through clusters of dangerous and polluting truck-based transfer stations.
Opening the public facilities to commercial waste haulers was a stated priority of the 2005 Solid Waste Management Plan and they should be included in the CWZ system to increase efficiency in the commercial sector and eliminate even more unnecessary truck miles from overburdened communities.
The marine facilities have substantial excess capacity. For example, the East 91st marine transfer facility was constructed to handle 1,644 tons of waste per day, but was only handling 442 tons per day according to the most recent available annual report published by DEC.vi
Allowing commercial haulers to tip waste at marine and rail facilities proximate to the zones designated by LL199 would make routes more efficient and could also level the playing field for small- and medium-sized waste companies that do not own transfer facilities.
Intro 933 will facilitate ongoing stakeholder engagement in the CWZ transition.
Finally, we are supportive of Intro 933, which would create a working group composed of community, labor, and industry stakeholders to advise DSNY on the ongoing implementation of the CWZ system. By design, Local Law 199 is a comprehensive and complex reform that should result in better service for businesses, tangible benefits for environmental justice communities, safer streets and working conditions, family sustaining green jobs, a stable financial environment for waste haulers, and major greenhouse gas emissions reductions. The working group created by this law would engage critical stakeholders over the short- and medium-term implementation of this transformative reform.
In that spirit, it is critical that we work together to maintain New York City’s national and global leadership in sustainability, job creation, safety, and innovation. We look forward to continued collaboration with DSNY, business owners, commercial waste companies, and the City Council to implement this landmark reform.
New York Lawyers for the Public Interest
151 West 30th Street, 11th floor
New York, NY 10001
For more than 40 years, NYLPI has fought to protect civil rights and achieve lived equality for communities in need. NYLPI combines the power of law, organizing, and the private bar to make lasting change where it’s needed most. Our Environmental Justice program fights environmental racism, works to eliminate the unfair burden of environmental hazards borne by low-income communities and communities of color, and seeks to create a more equitable and sustainable city. www.nylpi.org
ii https://www.seattle.gov/documents/Departments/SPU/Documents/Reports/SolidWaste/WastePrevention RecyclingReport-2021.pdf
iii https://sfgov.org/scorecards/environment/residential-and-small-business-landfill-diversion iv https://www.latimes.com/lifestyle/story/2023-02-09/how-to-compost-food-waste-for-multi-unit-households
vi DEC annual reports for transfer stations are available at: https://www.dec.ny.gov/chemical/23678.html
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