A Department of Sanitation garbage truck. Photo by Jason Lawrence.

Trash Law Treasured In Southeast Queens

By Dylan Campbell
Queens Daily Eagle

The smell of trash and the rumble of garbage trucks are all too common experiences for residents of Southeast Queens.

For years, Community District 12 — which includes Jamaica, Hollis, St. Albans, Springfield Gardens, Baisley Park, Rochdale Village and South Jamaica — has been a literal dumping ground for the rest of New York City, but starting next year, the trash burden will lighten. Earlier this month, Mayor Bill de Blasio signed a “waste equity bill” that will more evenly distribute trash across neighborhoods rather than consolidate it in parts of North Brooklyn and the South Bronx,

“For far too long, a few communities have been saturated by waste transfer stations and resulting truck traffic,” de Blasio said. “We are creating a more equitable city by shifting the burden away from those communities, and protecting other neighborhoods from facing this inequity in the future.”

De Blasio said that the waste burden particularly affected low-income communities of color in the three regions that handled nearly three-quarters of the city’s trash.

“We no longer accept the notion that if you happen to be poor or you happen to have darker skin that all the garbage goes to your neighborhood,” de Blasio said. “Half a million fewer tons of trash in these neighborhoods each year means cleaner air, less congested streets, and safer environments for our kids.”

People of color make up roughly 98.4 percent of Community District 12 residents and more than 62.8 percent are black, according to city data. About 21 percent of residents live below the city poverty threshold and more than 50 percent are rent burdened, meaning they pay more than 35 percent of their income toward rent.

In 2017, facilities in Community District 12 handled 1,682 tons of trash per day. When the new law takes effect in October 2019 Southeast Queens will see a 33 percent reduction in the trash hauled through it streets, which means the region’s three processing plants — American Recycling, Regal Recycling and Thomas Novelli — will all handle less waste, according to the Department of Sanitation.

The bill was co-sponsored by Council Member Antonio Reynoso, who represents part of Queens and Brooklyn, and passed the council in July, but it was years in the making.

After the closure of the Fresh Kills landfill in 2001, nearly all of the city’s waste was handled by privately-operated transfer stations. Most of these stations were located in low-income neighborhoods because of zoning and siting restrictions. But with more trash transport in the area came more health concerns, air pollution and increased risks for pedestrians and cyclists forced to share the road with large garbage trucks, the mayor’s office said.

The new law has its share of critics, however. Industry groups say the new measure will force carters and waste processing facilities to shut down or scale back and force layoffs.

“By restricting the use of existing permitted capacity, the law will increase costs to the city’s businesses, result in the loss of good working-class jobs, cause the displacement of dozens of waste collection trucks to other neighborhoods and diminish the city’s ability to deal with future crises like Superstorm Sandy that could imperil the city’s new waste export facilities,” said the National Waste & Recycling Association New York City Chapter and New Yorkers for Responsible Waste Management in a joint statement.

The organizations told Crain’s they felt they should have been able to see the environmental impact report before the law was passed and indicated that they may take legal action.

“This bill has been under negotiation for more than three years, and all along the Department of Sanitation has been promising an environmental assessment so everybody would be able to understand the impact,” said Kendall Christiansen, executive director of the commercial carter trade group New Yorkers for Responsible Waste Management. “And they didn’t produce it until a minute before the committee hearing today. It’s not fair to the public and not fair to the industry to have it held until the 13th hour with no ability to have a rational discussion about whether they got it right.”

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