Conclusions from a review of commercial waste collection in the city has some business owners concerned about potential impacts, particularly cost.
The study’s main conclusion is that a system of waste collection zones would be a more efficient method than the current open-market private carting system, which can bring dozens of different haulers to a neighborhood.
Though residential, governmental and institutional garbage is collected by the city’s Department of Sanitation, commercial businesses must hire private carters to do away with theirs. Business owners have the choice of 90 licensed companies to do so and, because it is an open market, they can switch companies for a better deal at any time.
According to the study, a zoned approach to garbage collection would reduce greenhouse gas emissions and traffic by cutting back on the number of trucks rolling through neighborhoods. In effect, there can be as many garbage trucks collecting from any one block as there are businesses there.
“Supporters of the open market system argue that competition drives down prices and offers increased customer choice,” the study reports. “However, opponents argue that this system results in unnecessary truck trips, with multiple carters at times serving the same block at the same time, in addition to other negative externalities.”
According to the press release accompanying the report, the Department of Sanitation and the BIC, which is charged with regulating and licensing the private carting industry, will work with businesses, the carting industry and environmental advocates for the next two years to develop “an implementation plan for commercial waste reform.”
Though there are almost 100 carting companies, the industry is dominated by five of them. Those five companies serve 46 percent of the city’s 108,000 businesses and collect 55 percent of the revenue, according to the report. In the zoned system, the city would be divided up into 20 geographical areas and one company — or possibly a few — would be chosen, via a bidding process, to collect all of that neighborhood’s business waste.
It is the bidding process that concerns Bertha Lewis, founder and president of The Black Institute.
Lewis has been opposed to the Upper East Side marine transfer station for waste collection, which she and neighborhood residents have contested on several grounds, including the safety of neighborhood residents and pollution. It is unclear how the marine transfer station would be affected by waste collection zones.
“I’m concerned that when the city puts out competitive bids for city contracts, minority and women-owned business get less than 4 percent,” Lewis said. “So you’re just going to wind up with the same white companies dominating.”
Councilman Ben Kallos said he has written a letter to DSNY Commissioner Kathryn Garcia requesting more information about the plan.
“The big concern that many constituents have is whether or not commercial carters as part of a franchising system would be required to dump in the neighborhoods that they pick up, or whether they might use this marine transfer station to force all the private carters who have franchises for Manhattan to dump on the Upper East Side,” Kallos said.
BIC Commissioner Dan Brownell wasn’t able to shed much light on the issue, emphasizing that the concept was in its infancy and that there would be lots of discussion about it.
“What we’re going to start doing is meeting with different groups ... because I think in some ways the next phase is more difficult, which is trying to figure out exactly what a zoned system in New York would look like,” Brownell said. As far as the Upper East Side’s marine transfer station, Brownell said he didn’t know much but it’s possible that the site could see an increase in use by garbage trucks from more than just the zone closest to it.
The potential for the open market to be taken away also worries Ed Schoenfeld, the owner of RedFarm restaurant on the Upper West Side. Although he hadn’t yet read the study and wasn’t clear on its implications, he is worried about the potential cost of any new system.
“My first thought is that things would get more expensive,” he said.
For Schoenfeld, the thought of dealing with another quasi monopoly is unenviable at best.
“We’re in a very low-margin business,” Schoenfeld said. “I already have to buy my water and my electricity from a monopoly at prices that set for me and it’s very expensive. There’s not much room for me to pay much more for my carting.”
Madeleine Thompson: firstname.lastname@example.org