BY COUNCILMAN RUBEN WILLS
For several years now, the Council has sought to accelerate the implementation of the city’s Solid Waste Management Plan. One goal of the plan is to address the issue of waste distribution inequality, particularly in lower earning communities of color in the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Southeast Queens.
An idea currently being studied by the city, which some Council Members and environmental advocates are championing, is the creation of commercial waste collection zones.
Under a franchise agreement, a small handful of the more than 200 licensed carting companies currently in operation would be granted the authority to collect commercial waste in city designated geographic zones within each borough.
But during a public hearing this past April, a city commissioner indicated the proposal would be far from a cure-all, and would likely come with some tradeoffs.
He suggested the survival of smaller carting companies would be doubtful under this new system.
Though he stressed the city has no desire to do anything that would hinder their success, such a proposal would do precisely that.
If the scale were tipped in favor of a monopolized carting industry, the people in my district, whom some of the smaller companies employ, would be in danger of losing their jobs.
I too want environmental justice, but not at the expense of displacing workers already displaced by the shuttering of a century old bread factory four years ago in Jamaica.
And not at the expense of potentially forcing my district’s local businesses to pay steeper waste collection fees.
The path to achieving true environmental justice cannot be forged without addressing the underlying problem that has brought the people living in these communities overburdened with waste to the point they’re at today: the intentional oversaturation of negative land use.
How else could it be possible for 26 of the private waste transfer stations based in the city, handling 70% of its trash; are based in only four community districts in the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Southeast Queens?
For decades, these stations have been placed in close proximity to residences, houses of worship, and public parks: the epitome of a shotgun wedding.
And in that time, the working families and small businesses of these majority minority communities have endured these arranged marriages by gaining employment with small carting companies, and making use of the services they provide.
They should not be sacrificed for the sake of idealistic high-minded goals.
Instead, the city would be wise to consider updating its policy on the use of sub-contractors as a means of lessening long haul truck traffic pollution, and step-up its efforts to better educate local businesses about proper recycling and garbage disposal.
Advocating for this approach is not endemic of corporate or commercial cronyism, but pragmatism.
We should seek to empower these small businesses; not lower the boom on them.
It’s not as if the city hasn’t stepped in before to buttress a private industry with public dollars.
Have we already forgotten about the school bus companies?