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Commercial Waste Management Reform Is Finally Almost Happening (This Fall, in One Part of Queens)

Plus, more links dumped for your browsing pleasure.

Cans in bags on the street waiting for commercial recycling pickup.
(Hell Gate)

Last year, Mayor Eric Adams declared a war on rats and appointed a "rat czar" to stand by his side. It was funny, it was flashy, and it didn't really make sense if you thought about it for too long—the kind of classic Adams administration scenario we all know and love. This week, the Adams administration dropped some decidedly less sexy—but potentially much more impactful—santitation news: Commercial waste management reform is finally moving forward, after years of delays.

The trash created by restaurants, stores, office buildings, and basically any commercial entity in the city falls outside the purview of the Department of Sanitation to collect, which is where the commercial waste management industry's web of private businesses, also known as "carters" or "carting companies," step in. There were—and still are—several compelling reasons to change how this industry operates: to curb emissions from all of those trucks that drive across the city on a daily basis; to mandate safer conditions for the people who work in the industry; and to protect New Yorkers from being killed by commercial carting trucks, something that happened 43 times from 2010 to 2019. 

After vowing to do something about these issues in 2016, then-Mayor Bill de Blasio worked with the City Council to ink a series of commercial waste reform bills into law in 2019. The most important law chopped the City into 20 different commercial waste collection zones, and the City would give out contracts to three carting businesses to operate per zone after a "competitive bidding process." Safety measures were also to be installed on all trucks by 2024 which, well, would you look at the time?

The first delay in implementing these reforms came in 2020, due to the City's pandemic shutdown measures. In 2022, reform advocates told Streetsblog NYC that they were growing impatient as the City caved to pressure from the carting industry to push back another deadline. In 2023, the Sanitation Department pushed the deadline back again, finally landing on a date last February: the back half of 2024.

Now, on Tuesday, the Sanitation Department announced that the ball is finally rolling! (Kind of.) Companies have indeed been selected to service the City's 20 commercial waste zones, but, on a distinctly underwhelming note, only one zone in Queens has a concrete timeline for implementation—this fall, with no deadline set for the other 19

And as far as the quality of those companies go, uh…Here's a snippet from a Gothamist report:

Several of the companies that the sanitation department selected have troubled safety records. Drivers for Action Carting—which won the rights to pick up commercial waste in every zone of the Bronx, Brooklyn and all but one in Manhattan—allegedly killed five pedestrians or cyclists from 2008 to 2017. And data from the federal Department of Transportation shows the New Jersey-based company’s drivers have over the last two years been involved in crashes that injured 18 people.

One might think the number one criterion for handing out these contracts would be "hasn't killed or maimed anyone." Then again, given the City's recent track record on selecting contractors, maybe New Yorkers are supposed to be grateful that the companies picked to help keep this city running can actually do the job they're committing to.

Some links you don't have to wait around to read:

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