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City Reorganizes Waste Management

HOST: Mayor Bill de Blasio says that in fifteen years, he wants New York to have the best air quality of all large American cities. And he promises to bring landfill waste to zero. That means New York has to reform the way it collects waste. More than half of the city’s trash is collected by dozens of private hauler companies. Gregoire Molle reports on proposed reforms to the current waste-collecting system, and discovers that some waste-transfer stations are going greener.

Private waste-management is a profitable business, that’s why there are more than two hundred and fifty licenced trucks [factcheck: trucks or truck companies? there must be more than 250 trucks. ] driving all around New York City to pick up trash, mostly from businesses. The City takes care of residential waste. The private waste industry is loosely regulated, and that has led to   increasing air pollution. Competition between private haulers is tough, so their trucks drive three times as far as the city’s trucks to pick up the same amount of trash.

Samantha MacBride teaches urban politics and environmental issues at Baruch College.. She says that the private waste-collecting system is crippled with inefficiencies.

MACBRIDE: You have private carters that are collecting in one area, driving twenty minutes, collecting in another area, driving twenty minutes, traversing the city. (00:09)

Last week, environmental organizations gathered in front of City hall, to ask representatives to regulate more the private hauling system.

[AMBI: Clapping]

These organizations say that one solution to make waste-collecting more efficient could be zoning, that’s a system also known as franchising. Here’s how it works: A bidding competition between private haulers would select a handful of them to collect the waste in delimited areas of New York City.

Gavin Kearney, of New York Lawyers for the Public Interest,  says such a system would reduce air pollution. Truckers would drive less, and having a reliable pool of customers might encourage them to make greener investments.

KEARNEY: When you give somebody a dense customer-base, when you tell them “you’re   gonna get this for ten years, you’re gonna get there for twelve years,” they can start to get the financing to invest in new equipment. (00:09)

Environmentally-friendly equipment, that is. But  Thomas Toscano, the chief financial officer of a private hauling trucks company, says the system has a cost: mandatory zones means less competition – and higher prices.

TOSCANO: If you have a situation where you mandate “you must use carter A” he’s gonna be able to charge you anything he wants, and businesses in New York City are gonna suffer. (00:07)

But another issue for companies like Toscano’s is that the city is already requiring them to recycle more waste and to have more environmental-friendly trucks. But that’s a million-dollar investment, and if franchising becomes a reality, Toscano will lose his clients, if the city doesn’t appoint his company to collect the New York’s trash.

TOSCANO: How can I put my own assets my house and everything else on the line, to buy trucks when, again, in one swipe of a pen, they’re gone.  (00:08)

That argument doesn’t sway urban politics professor Samantha MacBride. She points out that some cities like Seattle, or Portland have adopted franchising – and it has worked.

MACBRIDE: This drastically reduces the number of trucks on the road, it drives up the efficiency of collection, it allows the city to monitor compliance with the recycling laws and the recycling rates. (00:13)

Mayor de Blasio has not officially endorse the proposal, but it is clear that the plan would fit well into his recent “Zero Waste” proposal. Two weeks ago, he said New York City won’t send anymore garbage to landfills by 2030, thanks to improvements in recycling, composting, and reusing food waste. At a waste transfer station on Varick Street, in Brooklyn,


These solutions are starting to take shape.

[SOUND Waste being dumped]

In this station, city TRUCKS dump residential trash into a huge pile that gets bigger as the day goes on. It is now 3.30pm.

KAPLAN: Peter how many yards or tons would you say we have on the floor right now?

DELUCA: Right now this is about 800 tons of garbage, what you’re looking at here. (00:08)

Jay Kaplan and Peter Deluca are managers of the Waste Transfer Station. Some days, they deal with up to two thousand tons of waste.

KAPLAN: Everyday, it’s fresh garbage. (00:02)

After being dumped into the container, the waste is loaded railroad container. A big red truck is now removing the empty containers from the train.

[SOUND: Platform sticking to the container]

Attached to the truck, there is a black platform that sticks to the containers, lifts them from the truck and puts them on the ground.

KAPLAN: These machines will place the containers on the rail cars and they will remove empties and place them on the truck chassis, which is on the other side, which will then go down and get loaded and start the process all over again. (00:15)

Because the waste is transported by train, this transfer facility has reduced the air pollution and traffic that would exist if the waste were to be transported by road.

That’s not the only green initiative of this waste transfer station.

Right now, none of the waste processed at this facility is recyclable. But that could change by the end of this year. Kaplan and Deluca recently  got a permit from the city, which will allow them to transform food organics into energy.

KAPLAN: We’re going to take the food and it’s gonna be put into a piece of equipment that will reduce it to a slurry. (00:07)

Before being transformed into energy in another plant.

The Varick Street Station will begin by processing 48 tons of food waste a day. And over the next three years…

KAPLAN: We’re gonna ramp up to 250 tons per day. (00:02)

That will be 250 tons that won’t ever reach a landfill. We’re still far from the mayor’s goal of zero waste. But it is the beginning of a long process.

Gregoire Molle, Columbia Radio News.


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