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All New Yorkers want to live and work in safe, healthy communities. New York City has taken some steps in recent years to build the cleaner, more sustainable city we all want, increasing green space and the energy-efficiency of its building stock. The City has also begun to build a more equitable and sustainable solid waste management system, expanding residential recycling programs, and developing a plan to more fairly distribute waste facilities throughout the five boroughs. Unfortunately, the City has largely overlooked the commercial waste sector, to the detriment of local communities and workers, and to the detriment of the local environment, economy, and the City’s long-term sustainability.

New York City’s restaurants, offices, and businesses generate a staggering 3.2 million tons of solid waste each year, and bury and burn over 2 million tons of that waste in landfills and incinerators. Commercial waste is collected by a highly dysfunctional and outsized private system. Excess garbage trucks on the road contribute to some of the worst smog in the country, violations of clean air standards year after year, and intense noise pollution. Vast quantities of waste and inefficient collection have helped earn New York the dubious distinction of “America’s Dirtiest City.”

New York City deserves better. By transforming the commercial waste industry, it is possible to reduce pollution, foster cleaner and healthier communities for all New Yorkers, save the City money, lift thousands of waste industry workers and their families out of poverty, and create new, quality jobs in recycling and recycling-reliant industries. The City can achieve these goals via an exclusive franchise system, an approach being utilized by cities like Seattle and Los Angeles.

A franchise system for commercial waste collection would utilize a competitive bidding process to select commercial haulers to service franchise zones established across the city. The franchise system would ensure high-road environmental and labor practices, halting the current race to the bottom in the private waste sector. Franchise awardees would be required to meet environmental standards that increase recycling rates, reduce truck emissions, and more equitably distribute waste handling across the city; to meet labor standards that improve the safety and quality of jobs; and to ensure the new recycling jobs that are created are good jobs. In return, franchisees would benefit from a steady, efficiently located base of customers. The franchise system would ensure accountability through reporting requirements and increased City oversight.