For years, communities of color near New York City's waterfronts have been burdened with an inordinate amount of waste transfer stations and the pollution and diesel truck traffic that have come with them. On Wednesday, the City Council is poised to vote on legislation that would cap the amount of trash that these communities process.
Intro 157-C would tackle the permitted capacity of waste transfer stations in some of the city's most overburdened community districts, which include neighborhoods in the Bronx, Queens, and North Brooklyn.
New York City's 3.8 million tons of annual residential waste is handled by the City's Sanitation Department, while private firms handle the collection of 4 million tons of commercial garbage every year. In June, a review of official reports from the Transform Don’t Trash NYC coalition found that the commercial waste industry’s 21% recycling rate is down from last year’s rate of 22%. As a result, private carters "trucked an additional 200,000 tons of waste to landfills and incinerators over the previous year’s levels," the report estimated.
Currently, 4 out of 59 of the city's community districts—in North Brooklyn, the South Bronx, Southeast Queens, and Southeast Brooklyn—collectively handle at least 75 percent of the city's trash, according to a fact sheet from the New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, one of the bill's supporters.
"Right now, the vast majority of waste in New York City is trucked to and processed in just a handful of low-income communities of color," Priya Mulgaonkar, from the NYC Environmental Justice Alliance, one of the bill's supporters, told Gothamist.
According to a recent ProPublica investigation, 33 pedestrians have been killed by private carting vehicles since 2007.
Mulgaonkar said that these New Yorkers were essentially victims of "environmental racism," adding that the waste facilities are "truck-intensive, privately operated facilities—many of which are just across the street from parks, schools, and residences."
The bill would reduce the permitted capacity of waste treatment centers in the four overburdended community districts by an average of 38 percent. These districts include the neighborhoods of Melrose, Port Morris, and Hunts Point in the Bronx; Williamsburg, East Williamsburg, and Greenpoint in Brooklyn; and Jamaica, Jamaica Center, and St. Albans in Queens.
Should the bill pass, no single community would bear the burden of more than 10 percent of the city's waste.
Proponents of the legislation, including the bill's primary sponsors, Councilmembers Antonio Reynoso and Stephen Levin, are holding a rally in front of City Hall at 1 p.m. Wednesday before the vote.
Private waste management companies, and the City agency charged with regulating them, the Business Integrity Commission, have come under fire recently after the ProPublica investigation hammered the industry for its dangerous and low-paying working conditions. Last November, an off-the-books carting employee named Mouctar Diallo was killed by the driver of the truck he was working for. The carting firm, Sanitation Salvage, has deep political ties in the Bronx, and essentially attempted to cover up Diallo's death, according to ProPublica's reporting.
In 2016, the de Blasio administration pledged to create a system of zones for private carting companies that would reduce truck traffic and pollution and make the industry easier to regulate. Last week, Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia unveiled some of the plan's details, but it has yet to be made public.