With the closure of the Fresh Kills Landfill in 2001, New York City had to come to terms with what to do with the more than 25,000 tons of domestic and commercial waste produced by the city every day. In 2006 the Bloomberg administration proposed the “Comprehensive Solid Waste Management Plan” which among other measures, reformed the waste infrastructure. It aimed to share the burden of transporting and processing waste equally throughout the City. Central to this plan was the proposal and eventual construction of Marine Transfer Stations throughout all five boroughs. In concert with this plan, City Councilors proposed legislation crafted with the DSNY to mandate reduced reliance on the Solid Waste Transfer Stations. The legislation was due to go into effect as soon as the construction of the Marine Transfer Stations was completed, thereby encouraging private haulers to join DSNY in the use of the more environmentally friendly stations.
Although DSNY’s plans have been widely publicized and steps have been taken to reduce New York City’s reliance on ground transfer stations, a switch to full implementation has been slow. At the center of this difficulty has been the disparate systems dealing with residential and commercial trash in the city. While residential trash is regulated under DSNY and has moved to marine transfer station processing, commercial trash still operates through ground transfer stations, perpetuating issues the Solid Waste Management Plan was meant to address. Our group is investigating how the separate operations of these systems create spatial waste inequalities and how political maneuvering, through lobbying and campaign donation, has allowed the private commercial waste sector to operate free from DSNY’s efforts to create borough equity in waste processing.
Using publicly available lobbying and local campaign data, our group has been able to identify patterns in the commercial hauling industry that has created its current operations. We’ve narrowed our focus to only the companies that regularly employ lobbyists to target DSNY to influence policy in their favor. This data has revealed cross-borough relationships that keep the commercial hauling system running in its current state, where companies headquartered in Brooklyn, Bronx, and Queens funnel money into Manhattan to influence policy related to the boroughs of their businesses. As an added level, businesses are also influencing waste policy through the funding of district campaigns. While hauling companies may own a business in Brooklyn and donate to a campaign of a politician there, the individual donating may actually live in another borough or outside of New York City entirely, creating an inequality between the lived experiences of people within these districts who are affected by stagnant policies and the business owners who profit from them. We aim to show how the dual operations of the residential and commercial waste systems have maintained and perhaps even exacerbated waste inequality throughout New York City.