“There is no Republican or Democratic way to pick up the garbage,” Depression-era Mayor Fiorello La Guardia said. In fact, there are lots of ways to pick up the garbage. Now, the City Council wants to fix one of the worst ways: fly-by-night carters backing up down one-way streets and blowing red lights to be the lowest bidder on commercial waste. But fixing it the wrong way could make a bigger mess.
There is a lot to fix. As Brooklyn Councilman Antonio Reynoso pointed out at a summer hearing, the current system — in which 90 companies collect 3 million tons of refuse and recycling each year, based on individual agreements with 100,000 businesses and buildings — encourages a “race to the bottom,” with “highly inefficient routes, some with 1,000 stops in a single night.”
Reynoso’s push to reform the industry was spurred by two deaths within six months under the wheels of one company, now-defunct Sanitation Salvage. “We know in the last decade commercial garbage trucks have been involved in dozens of fatal crashes, including pedestrians, cyclists and workers,” Deputy Sanitation Commissioner Robert Orlin told the council.
Business owners don’t pay the cost of bad driving and below-minimum-wage labor; they just pay the lowest price. Even with good driving, more miles driven adds more danger: 26 separate carters serve just six blocks on Midtown’s West 57th Street.
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