A coalition of environmental advocates and neighborhood groups want Mayor Bill de Blasio to rethink the city’s trash collection policies, arguing that only 40 percent of the garbage collected from private business is actually recycled or composted.
Members of the "Transform, Don't Trash NYC" campaign launched on Wednesday want the mayor to completely restructure what private waste collectors do with the 5.5 million tons of waste they pick up from area businesses every year.
The advocacy group Alliance for a Greater New York ALIGN says that citywide only about 40 percent of the trash put out on the curb by private businesses — restaurants, office buildings, stores, etc. — is actually recycled or composted.
"Right now, we have an outdated system with outdated oversight," said Matt Ryan, executive director of ALIGN. "The good news is the city has the opportunity to adopt a 21st Century system to increase recycling, good jobs and justice."
Advocates want the 40 percent of currently recycled commercial waste closer to 70 percent, if not higher, and want the de Blasio administration to include it in the mayor's upcoming PlanNYC, an outline for sustainability first released by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2007.
The mayor's office did not immediately respond to Metro's questions on commercial waste in PlanNYC but a spokesman reiterated de Blasio's general commitment to sustainability.
Despite laws requiring New Yorkers sort their waste, New York City's overall recycling rate has stood near 15 percent for years, with a peak of almost 20 percent in 2002.
Unlike residential trash and recycling, which is picked up by the city's own Department of Sanitation, commercial waste is picked up by private collectors hired by business and building owners with little oversight by the city.
At home, most New Yorkers are used to sorting their plastics and paper: trash in black bags, recyclables in blue.
"Everyone sees that. It's normal," said Allan Henry, 44, a commercial waste worker who jumped on his first truck when he was 16 years old.
"I've been working in the industry for 28 years and I've never once recycled any bottles, cans or plastics," he said.
Standing in front of a waste transfer station in Brooklyn's East Williamsburg, Henry described how most of the trash bags workers like him pick up an average 20 or 30 tons per truck a night.
Most bags end up in similar stations — mostly located in working-class neighborhoods including East New York and the South Bronx — never to be sorted before they end up in landfills. That can change, Henry said, if the city streamlines private waste pickup.
Among the campaign’s suggested reforms is a possible zoning plan for commercial collectors. Instead of multiple companies taking on multiple jobs on a block, the plan would consolidate work for a company to a single area instead cutting across neighborhoods currently swamped with trucks.
That existing overcrowding can cause traffic headaches, critics warned, if not damage to air quality.
Angela Tovar of Sustainable South Bronx said residents in her neighborhood already suffer from overwhelmingly high rates of asthma, diabetes and obesity — "all linked with diesel emissions from truck traffic and environmental pollution."
De Blasio's PlanNYC is expected out on April 22 — Earth Day.