New York City is a complex yet wonderful place. It is a world-class marvel of civil and social engineering.
Currently the de Blasio Administration and City Council have embraced an extensive and far reaching agenda to make the city a better place in everything from education, to policing, to sustainability. As the city’s private waste and recycling industry, our issues fall squarely within the sustainability sphere. The private waste and recycling industry is an important and necessary local industry, and we want all to know we are focused and working hard to be part of the solution in this new vision.
Over the years, the city’s system for managing waste and recyclables was split in two, with the public system handled by the Department of Sanitation and a private system handled by our commercial carting industry. This public-private partnership has worked harmoniously and efficiently over the years to keep New York clean, healthy and safe. This partnership has also evolved, making it highly specialized and providing the programs and services required by the city’s Solid Waste Management Plan.
As our industry and technologies evolve, the city’s private waste and recycling industry finds itself fully immersed in a major policy review about how best to take the city’s private commercial carting system to the next level. While we welcome such a public review, we have great concerns about it and where it might lead.
The city’s private waste and recycling marketplace is robust and competitive. The companies providing these services are good partners with the city and all its generators of waste and recyclables. It is a hard job collecting trash and recyclables. Our services handle multiple waste streams, are done in all weather conditions and are performed at all times of the year. Our companies range from the small, mom-and-pop, two-truck operators to mid-size multi-generation family businesses to large regional and national corporations. Many of the companies in our market are just like those in others: hometown main street businesses. We’ve got a job to do and we do it well, moving around 5,000 tons of municipal waste per day, mostly at night and out of the public eye. We take care of our customers, our employees and re-invest in our businesses to enable us to grow and evolve and meet future needs.
Our industry has come under fire lately by a few well organized adversaries who have taken many unfair and below-the-belt shots. These shots include characterizing our industry as inefficient, operating unsafely, improperly paying our employees and failing to recycle. We wholeheartedly disagree.
The New York City private carting industry is very efficient. Our trucks are routed smartly and we are the experts at cleaning up the city. Our trucks collect more than twice the amount of waste in a typical shift than our public-sector counterparts. The “inefficiencies” complained of are the result of the city’s design of our system making it so customer focused, with the biggest winners being customers and businesses who get their solid waste and recycling needs met at low prices. Examples of these demands include time-specific pickups for bars and nightclubs and seven-day-a-week service for small restaurants. The suggested changes to our industry would completely change the customer focus and give these businesses a one-size fits all approach.
Our industry is highly unionized, employing thousands of New Yorkers over many generations. These employees are highly paid with many drivers earning in excess of $100,000 annually in jobs that do not even require high-school diplomas. Many employers have general health and pension packages that do not require employee contribution.
Our companies take safety seriously. Most have safety managers and work tirelessly to send crews out daily and to bring them back to the yard safely without incident. We operate heavy equipment in one of the world’s most densely populated cities. In addition to the obvious human consequences of accidents, there is one very large and often overlooked one: Accidents are expensive. Companies with poor safety records suffer from extremely high insurance and worker’s compensation rates. These costs strongly penalize unsafe operators in an industry with very small profit margins. Companies with poor safety records either change their ways quickly or are forced out of business by skyrocketing costs.
This is the first piece of more to come to clear up the misrepresentations out there about New York’s private waste and recycling industry. We are team players and we fully recognize we serve the people and businesses of the city. As such, we stand at the ready to work with all interested, credible and realistic stakeholders to advance our local fine private waste and recycling collection industry so that it can remain in place for decades to come in service to this great city.
Steve Changaris is the New York City Chapter manager of the National Waste & Recycling Association