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Each day, in the daylight, employees of the Department of Sanitation pick up 12,000 tons of trash generated by homes and residences. But the waste generated by businesses, offices, and restaurants — roughly 5.5 million tons annually — is someone else’s business. Those who work for “hauling” or “carting” companies in the private sanitation industry must lift, sling, transport, and dump commercial trash at night. Their convoluted routes crisscross the five boroughs, shaping our urban environment through noise, exhaust, and too-frequent accidents that injure passersby and haulers alike.
Allan Henry, a former hauler himself, now spends his nights organizing with the Transform Don’t Trash coalition to push for an exclusive zone franchise system, which would limit how many companies collect trash in each section of the city. The system could strengthen government oversight on safety violations, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with waste removal by close to 70 percent. So what’s the hold up? As Henry described during a ride-along this spring, one block on the road to change is workers’ fear that the existing system is stacked against them. But with companies fighting reorganization tooth and nail, it’ll take a united front to get the private waste industry to clean up its act.