Kurt & Luiza Interview with Justin Wood 2/21/18
Justin Wood is the Director of Organizing and Strategic Research for the New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYLPI). He is also a Taconic Fellow in NYLPI’s Environmental Justice program, and has been a leader of the Transform Don’t Trash NYC coalition and other campaigns to reform the city’s solid waste management system since joining NYLPI in 2014. He has researched and backed a number of City Legislative proposals, including 495-C, around issues surrounding the reform of NYC’s solid waste management program. He has a particular interest in social equity and the addressing the disproportionate grouping of waste management centers in low income communities.
In addition to the information above we were particularly interested in speaking to Justin because he works as part of an advocacy group that is in favor of the Marine Waste Transfer stations. While there are many neighborhood advocacy groups opposing the Marine Waste Transfer stations out of an obvious ‘not in my backyard’ objection; Justin advocates for them as a professional on a daily basis and we wanted to better understand why.
There were several outcomes of the interview with Justin that were particularly interesting in understanding the debate over Marine Transfer Stations. The ones we found most interesting were the following:
Equity and 495-C.: While discussing the issue of the recent defeat of the law that would have reduced the “permitted capacity at putrescible and non-putrescible solid waste transfer stations in overburdened districts” we discussed what the next steps would be and how he saw the role of the bill in the larger aims to change the solid waste management system. His response was that the bill was meant to coincide with the opening of the Marine Transfer stations and that he saw each step as a small step toward resolving the inequity of distribution of the solid waste transfer stations. Furthermore he also indicated that the bill has already been re-sponsored by Stephen Levin of Brooklyn, unchanged, as Int. 157 for the current council session.
“Kurt: Interesting, I don't want to lose track of these salient points, but as we were beginning to look into who the players are I was also looking at former DSNY commissioners that are involved in a variety of things and seem to have their heads in the right place, but then they seem like they are referred to on this lobbying website as being involved in the discussion of where the trash is sent essentially. So, is this an industry that is lobbying within the DSNY on annual basis, or is this sort of …
Justin: Um, they are certainly, the industry certainly tries to lobby DSNY, um and I think the good news is that we were very heartened. So, under the previous iteration of the waste equity bill in 2013 came very very close to passing, would have been a stronger iteration of the same bill actually and it did not have the support of then mayor Bloomberg and we would have to overwrite a veto, and we were like one vote shy of a veto override in the end of Bloomberg’s last turn. So, I think that the good news for this equity battle is that, um, commissioner Garcia from DSNY and mayor De Blasio. Um, some of the changes that you saw in intro 495 a,b and c over the last three years were sort of negotiations between the city sponsor counselors and the city hall over how can the bill be tweaked to address city hall’s concerns and they got that to a place where we thought it was going to pass, because it had mayor De Blasio’s support and had some strong councils for it and obviously that didn’t happen in December. I know that the councilman Leven has reintroduced it and is gonna start to wrangle in votes and try this new iteration of it.”
Private Waste System vs. DSNY: In discussing the complexity of the current waste processing system Justin indicated that while the residential waste, picked up by DSNY, would be processed through the Marine Transfer Stations the more problematic issue was the way Private Trash haulers shipped their trash out of the city. He said that private trash haulers have resisted using the Marine Transfer stations in favor of cheaper, traditional, land transfer stations. We weren’t aware of the marked disparity in the processing of the trash from the licensed private haulers compared to DSNY. This also brought up the issue of private haulers improperly mixing recycling and putrescible waste in the same trucks. Following up on this discussion Justin recommended that we speak with Meredith Danberg-Ficarelli at Common Ground Compost as a great resource on business sustainability practices and the commercial hauler field.
*“Kurt: Um, So, with that, sort of as I was reading, I read a bit of information that was published by Don’t Trash NY, hum, which, just as, I understand you do work with DTNY?
Justin: Yeah, Transform don’t trash NY?
Justin: We’re a core partner in that
Kurt: Got it. Is that related to your work with NYPLI?
*Justin:It is, in fact I spend a lot of my time with Transform Don’t Trash NY hum, advocacy. I think that, you know, that if you’re asking strictly about the waste infrastructure that’s like a ten year old’s battle with the mts funding and having the city do planning for how its going to transport its waste, the city only has a plan right now for how it's going to export its municipal waste stream. What TDTNYC is seeking to address and reform is the private sector waste stream, which is the commercial waste stream, handled entirely by private waste hauler companies, many of which are also owners of transfer stations.
Kurt: Got it, that's helpful*
Justin: Residential waste is handled by DSNY, its a public service those are the white trucks we see. The huge commercial waste stream, so any, you know, Columbia University’s waste, any private entity’s waste they have to contract with a hauler to come and collect it. So these things are definitely related and we have a position on how the city’s infrastructure should be used more by the private sector. But, um, they’re kind of distinct now, in that sense.”
Zoning of Commercial Waste System: When asked what seems to be a potential solution to remediating the issues around the commercial waste system Justin said that the city has committed to a restrictive zoning for Commercial Haulers which would seemingly compel them to use waste transfer stations within a certain proximity. He said that this should go a long way to lessening the burden of neighborhoods that have a disproportionate number of solid waste transfer stations. Following up on this discussion Justin recommended that we speak with the director of DSNY’s Commercial Waste Zones initiative is Justin Bland.
“Kurt: That’s interesting, because I was trying to understand sort of the, because on some level it seemed like the interest for NYPLI was related to the impact of, the disparate impact of pre existing waste transfer stations in the South Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens. But then it seems that TDTNY was interested in you know, resolving this issue around the commercial trucking perspective. So I wondered about, well, not only that, but about the issue of recycling or more recycling. For example, it was one of the issues. Is there sort of a major divide, or do you see that as two sides of the same coin that is being worked towards…
*Justin: No, we definitely view them as all parts of the same problem. I mean, the sort of community equity piece and that the disparate impacts on communities like the South Bronx, you know, the private transfer stations are disproportionately located and clustered in those communities and by the same token, the private side, commercial waste trucks are using those transfer stations and disproportionately concentrated in those communities. And so, we want the city, which has control of its own waste stream to be more equitable, and cleaner and greener in how it exports waste. And we’ve made some strides in that with the solid waste management plan, but the private side in terms of these commercial trucks don’t have any plans to use these marine transfer stations yet, so they are still disproportionately going to places like the South Bronx and North Brooklyn, with the highest asthma rates, um, in the city. *
Kurt: Why wouldn’t corporate trucking companies want to use a shorter route?
Justin: That’s an excellent question, and I mean, I think we see, so the city has committed to some of our major goals with TDTNY. One of our major goals was to get the city to adopt the called zoned collection system. Where instead of having an sort of open market free for all with 90 different private waste companies competing with each other over the city. Um, the city is going to establish a more rational system where they create districts or zones and limit the right to collect waste to those zones to one or a few companies that meet high standards in terms of recycling, labor, hopefully in trucks, like low emissions trucks, um there is a whole host of standards that we would like to see them held to. Um, the equity piece could be tied into that and that’s one of our goals, um, is for the city to consider as part of that new system, you know, rewarding companies that say “we want to use the shortest route, we want to use the city’s cleaner infrastructure”. But I think that to do that the city is going to need to create some incentives to the private haulers. Um, right now they obviously just want to do whatever is cheapest. What transfer station can they use that is going to charge the lowest price to truck something to a landfill out of state. And what we would like to see is the city somehow either through subsidies, making the MTS competitive. um, i mean they are more expensive that's the bottom line, they have fair, the workers are treated fairly, they have as I mentioned a sort of high tech containerization and safety, less environmental impact. But all of that has a cost and there is no doubt that cost per ton of exporting waste is probably higher than at the primitive truck based transfer station that's just like a giant warehouse in the Bronx area. One truck tips garbage into a floor, another truck puts it into a, you know, gets loaded into a long haul truck and gets trucked out. So, you know, how do we get the private sector system to sort of move into the better infrastructure that’s a big question and one that we sort of want to push the city to think about.”
Kurt & Luiza Interview scheduled 2/23/18 with Ron Gonen, Former Deputy Commissioner for DSNY aka “Recycling Czar”
Ron Gonen was the Deputy Commissioner of Sanitation, Recycling and Sustainability for New York City and joined the Bloomberg administration with the task of rebuilding NYC's recycling program. We have scheduled an interview with him for Friday 2/23 based on his availability. We are interested in speaking with him both because of his role as Deputy Commissioner at the DSNY but also because of his outspoken position about the current state of recycling within the city and his outspoken support of the planned zoning for commercial haulers.
Shuting Interview to be scheduled with private Marine Transfer Station manager
According to the conflicts between the station working for a larger scale neighborhood sanitation service and the impact to the surrounding neighborhood we want to interview the manager of the transfer station following questions for the interview.
For the new transfer station we want to focus more on the working process and issued during the station daily working.
Where is these trash from/ to go, how long time they will stay in station before being transferred to other place.
Operation time for these trash(day/week)
Processing time for the capacity and if it is over the capacity, what is the impact
What is the main complaints from the surrounding community,How they
We know they cooperate with DSNY and waste management. How they share the budget and responsibility for sanitation service.
The connection information for these marine transfer stations is limited. We only can find the phone number on the website. Now we try to connect the DSNY , related journalists and waste management NYC.L.LC about the transfer stations.
Nina Interview to be scheduled with the Metropolitan Transfer Station and the Departmnet of Sanitation
The biggest takeaway from this week’s interview-gathering process was how inaccessible these Marine Transfer Stations are to the general public. To begin with, it was difficult to find contact information for each station, let alone the name of any contact who could talk about the workings of individual stations. I called Metropolitan Transfer Station, one of the two numbers for MTS’s that Shuting found, and the receptionist hung up on me after I finished explaining why I was calling. I then went onto the DSNY website to try to find another contact, and was only able to find one number for the general DSNY public relations department. I called them, but they refused to give phone interviews and told me to email them. They were prompt in responding to my email, and we should have some answers in a few days. Although their response is better than my previous experiences, an email interview has the disadvantage of being static and not allowing follow-up questions. It remains to be seen if their information will be helpful. Below is the list of questions I sent to the DSNY:
Is there a system in place to decide which trash goes to which MTS?
Where does trash go from MTS's? Does it differ by location?
What are the processing capacities for the existing MTS facilities and how is that decided?
Who acts as a liaison between neighbors and MTS's?
Additionally, I asked them for suggestions of other people to contact with these kind of questions, so hopefully I will be able to talk to a real person in the future.