Editor's Note: This story has been updated with a comment from New Yorkers for Responsible Waste Management.
- The Transform Don't Trash NYC coalition, a partnership of labor and environmental groups, has launched a new website "to bring transparency and accountability" to the city's commercial waste industry. The site, "Trash Kingpins of New York City," went live today.
- The site goes into extensive detail on the personal lives and business dealings of the owners behind six local waste and recycling companies. Five Star Carting, Crown Container, Crown Waste, Planet Waste, Liberty Ashes and Mr. T Carting are all featured.
- Citing public accounts and various records, Trash Kingpins focuses on a host of labor, environmental and safety practices that are seen as antithetical to the commercial waste industry's projected image. Research was conducted by New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYLPI), the Alliance for Greater New York and Teamsters Joint Council 16.
Public debate about a proposed New York commercial waste franchise system has been quiet recently. The Department of Sanitation (DSNY) has selected a consulting team to handle the next phase of studying potential implementation scenarios and that contract is currently awaiting approval from the city comptroller's office. Commissioner Kathryn Garcia recently traveled to Los Angeles to learn about how the transition process has worked for them and other California cities. New York haulers attended a safety symposium this spring and a group of them are currently on their own California trip to learn about new recycling technologies. TDT recently picked up new endorsements from city officials and has continued to call for reforms in the industry.
All of this appeared to be proceeding in TDT's favor, though behind the scenes they had also been working on the Trash Kingpins project for more than six months. TDT felt the response from many commercial waste haulers was disingenuous following the release of a study in August 2016 that the city used to justify its support for a franchise system. While some of the examples cited on this new website had already been reported, and violations are technically regulated by the city's Business Integrity Commission, TDT felt it was time to refocus the discussion.
"These particular companies are some of the most prominent and most notorious in terms of the environmental degradation, the public flouting the law, the unapologetic manner in which their companies behave," Melissa Iachan, a senior staff attorney with NYLPI, told Waste Dive.
Iachan said that all of the information on the site had been legally vetted and more could be coming on other companies in the future. She also said that the team would consider updating information if companies improved performance in certain areas, such as an FMCSA score or other quantitative metrics. When asked whether TDT felt any small companies were currently serving as good examples, Iachan said "they are few and far between." TDT's aim is to preserve opportunities for independent haulers, either through subcontracting or smaller zones, though some companies have expressed concern that a franchise system will only favor larger regional or national operations.
New Yorkers for Responsible Waste Management, the main group that has emerged to represent local companies opposing a franchise system, pushed back on TDT's argument.
“Once again, TDT and its members have opted to personally attack the companies and individuals that daily manage New York City’s commercial waste and recyclables and provide good jobs to thousands of people, rather than contribute to a reasoned discussion about how best to achieve the city’s environmental goals," wrote Kendall Christiansen, NYRWM's executive director, in an emailed statement which went on to criticize the standing of Teamsters Local 813. "While we are reviewing some of the latest allegations from TDT – many of which are factually incorrect – New Yorkers for Responsible Waste Management will continue to represent the industry in substantive discussions with the city and other interested stakeholders about improving the industry’s overall strong record of effective and efficient service, including current expansion of organics management and recycling.”
Aside from further prodding the city's commercial waste industry, TDT emphasized that its main goal is to ensure talk of a franchise system doesn't get watered down in negotiations. As seen with a last-minute lawsuit from apartment owners in Los Angeles ahead of the city's own franchise implementation, some pushback from New York's real estate community could be expected. Approval will eventually be needed from local council members as well. Some of those members will be newcomers due to term limits and the rest are up for re-election this fall.
"It's really important both to the public here, but also to other government regulators and government decision-makers, to not allow the industry to be parroting and trying to convey their message without a counter-position," said Iachan. "Not all the details have been hammered out yet. There’s just a lot of room for loopholes."
Much remains unknown as New York moves toward one of the largest changes to its commercial waste industry in decades. The city will continue to facilitate discussions with a wide range of stakeholders, but can only do so much to control public debate. The release of "Trash Kingpins" may ensure that the tenor of that debate remains more combative than amicable in the months ahead.