It’s Time to Transform NYC’s Trash

Check out the guest blog below from our colleagues in the Environmental Justice program here at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest and from the Alliance for a Greater New York (ALIGN).  Low-income communities and communities of color disproportionately bear the burden of environmentally hazardous industries and exposure. Environmental discrimination has broad implications for the health of these communities, as evidenced by high rates of asthma in heavily polluted areas such as the South Bronx. The piece below looks at the issue of waste management in New York City and calls for a policy change that would make NYC communities cleaner and healthier.

By Justin Wood and Maya Pinto of the Transform Don’t Trash NY Coalition

Thanks to new programs from New York City’s Department of Sanitation, many New Yorkers are beginning to recycle and compost more of the trash we generate in our homes and apartments.

But have you ever wondered what happens to the trash you throw out at work, or what happens to food scraps every time you eat a meal at a restaurant?  NYC businesses generate a staggering 5.5 million tons of garbage per year – and almost 75% of it ends up buried in landfills or burned in incinerators.[1]

Not only do these outmoded disposal practices contribute significantly to greenhouse gas emissions; our giant, chaotic, and inefficient private-sector waste system also contributes to chronic health crises for thousands of New Yorkers.

1)  Inefficient collection means thousands of unnecessary trucks on our streets and pollution in our communities.

Our commercial and restaurant waste is picked up by any of over 230 private haulers, which operate more than 4,000 trucks in NYC.  Because these companies constantly compete for customers, they operate inefficient, overlapping truck routes and send unnecessary diesel emissions into our air – releasing dozens of nasty pollutants linked to premature deaths, heart attacks, asthma, and other serious ailments.  Commercial garbage truck drivers face pressure to complete their collection routes each night as quickly as possible – leading many to engage in speeding, illegal turns, and reverse moves on one-way streets, endangering pedestrians and cyclists.[2]  In fact, better regulation of commercial waste trucks may be essential to achieving the safe streets called for in the mayor’s new Vision Zero plan: studies have found that, per mile, commercial garbage trucks cause more cyclist fatalities than any other vehicle.

2)  Our waste is disproportionately handled in low-income communities and communities of color. 

The vast majority of NYC waste is carted by heavy collection trucks to transfer stations before ultimately being hauled away from the transfer stations in still more trucks.  The majority of these transfer facilities are located in just three outer-borough neighborhoods – the South Bronx, North Brooklyn, and Jamaica, Queens – which are home to more than half a million people, most of whom are low-income and of color, and many of whom suffer from elevated rates of asthma and other chronic health problems.

“Waste-to-Energy” Incinerators also emit greenhouse gases and toxins such as dioxin and mercury, which are associated with cancer and other health impacts common to overburdened communities.  Hundreds of thousands of tons of NYC waste are trucked to an incineration plant in Newark’s Ironbound neighborhood, which is burdened by  a high rate of childhood asthma.

3)  Workers Face Serious Health Hazards   

The solid waste industry is among the deadliest in the nation for workers, and waste workers face daily hazards like exposure to poisons, toxins, rodents, infectious diseases, and diesel fumes.

While collecting garbage is inherently difficult, dirty work, not all workers are treated equally.  City workers collecting waste from residences have good health benefits, union representation, and pension plans.  In contrast, private hauler workers who collect waste from offices, restaurants, and other businesses suffer from an under-regulated “race to the bottom” in which wage and safety standards are sacrificed for the bottom line.  Moreover, commercial waste workers are disproportionately people of color who earn significantly less than their white counterparts.[3]

The Solution:  Transform Don’t Trash NYC!

Thankfully, our city has the opportunity to set policies that solve these problems.  The City can enact high-road labor and environmental standards and establish accountability mechanisms in the commercial waste industry by adopting an approach to solid waste management that is increasingly being used in cities across the country.

Cities including Los Angeles, San Jose, and Seattle have adopted innovative approaches to waste management in which haulers submit bids for the exclusive right to collect waste in geographic zones designated by the city.  Haulers are selected based on factors such as fair prices for customers, the hauler’s ability to meet city recycling goals, and commitment to fair wages and health benefits for workers.

The results are promising: San Jose has seen its business recycling and composting rates jump rapidly from 23% to 71% after choosing an innovative hauling company to collect all commercial waste.  Los Angeles just adopted similar legislation and anticipates that its new system will greatly boost recycling and composting rates while reducing inefficient truck routes throughout the city.

If New York City follows suit, we could eliminate over 5 million diesel truck miles every year on our streets, improve the health and wellness of our most vulnerable residents, prevent 2.5 million tons of waste per year from being landfilled or incinerated, and create over 15,000 quality local jobs by recycling our commercial waste into useful products.

You can show your support for a healthier, cleaner, and greener NYC by joining our online campaign today!


[1]Recent data from an unpublished study commissioned by DSNY (acquired by TDTNY through a FOIL request) show that our commercial waste problem is worse than previously understood.  NYC previously estimated commercial waste generation at 3 million tons per year with a 31% recycling/diversion rate.  New estimates are 5.1 million TPY with only a 26% diversion rate.  Source:  Halcrow Engineers, “New York City Comprehensive Commercial Waste System Analysis and Study,” submitted August, 2012.

[2] After directly observing more than 125 different NYC blocks at night, DSNY’s consultants find that these illegal time-saving maneuvers were common.  Source:  “New York City Comprehensive Commercial Waste System Analysis and Study,” p. 3-15.

[3] EEO tabulations of Census data analyzed by ALIGN show that while 12% of white workers in the waste industry earn less than $35,000/year, a majority of Latino workers and 75% of non-citizen workers earn less than $35,000/year. See Transform Don’t Trash NYC p. 12.

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HJ News and Resource Roundup 5/2/14

Welcome back! This week, we’re looking at the importance of safety net health care for marginalized populations, policies that impact sexual and reproductive health, and some exciting developments and opportunities for health advocacy here in New York City.

Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities:

Patients of color with diabetes are less likely to receive routine eye exams than their white counterparts with diabetes.

Undocumented farm workers are the hardest hit by cuts in safety net health care.

Overcrowding in California prisons–disproportionately filled with people of color–leads to medical neglect.

Tennessee Governor Haslam has signed the bill that will criminalize pregnant women who use substances. Advocates fear the new law will hit Black women hardest.



How health reform is changing the landscape of service delivery and increasing our reliance on nurses–and how that’s a good thing.

The deadly cost of being uninsured.

Few options remain for those who missed the health insurance enrollment deadline.


Mental Health:

Higher doses of antidepressants may raise teen suicide risk. At the same time, antidepressant use is on the rise among young adults.

Too fat” messaging can put young girls at increased risk for obesity and depression.


Sexual, Reproductive, and Maternal Health:

A few weeks ago, we covered the increased incidence of paternal depression in Hispanic men. The Atlantic further explores the wide reach of post-partum depression, which can also impact adoptive parents and caregivers.

Children’s sexual health and safety requires we teach them about sexual assault, starting with age-appropriate lessons about consent.

Over-the-counter generic emergency contraception remains inaccessible to youth and people of color.


The Here and Now: Local and Timely Issues:

On the urgency of antibiotic resistance.

Artistic resistance to gender-based street harassment in Brooklyn.

New York moves to ban condoms as evidence against sex workers and those profiled to be engaging in sex work. Yay!

Tell the City to raise NYC’s dismal recycling rate and create new jobs! This is particularly important given the fact that communities of color are overburdened with waste processing facilities and more likely to experience the harmful effects of pollution.

Happy May Day!

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HJ News and Resource Roundup 4/25/14

Welcome back! This week, we’re covering racial and ethnic health disparities evident in everything from disaster preparedness to foster care, exploring more on pregnancy-related discrimination, and, as always, highlighting current developments and challenges in ACA rollout.

Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities:

Low-income individuals have shorter life spans than those with higher income.

On building a life after aging out of the foster care system, in which youth of color are disproportionately involved.

Earlier this week we celebrated Earth Day! Learn about Black environmentalists doing important work to protect the environmental and social health of their communities.

Reflections on disaster preparedness and recovery for communities of color during Minority Health Month.

Ariel Gonzalez, suffering kidney failure, highlights the reluctance of undocumented immigrants to access emergency treatment.

The CDC has announced promising new initiatives to reduce racial and ethnic health disparities.


Sexual, Reproductive, and Maternal Health:

Sign this petition calling on Tennessee Governor Haslam to veto the Pregnancy Criminalization Law we discussed last week.

American anti-abortion policies have devastating effects–and a worldwide reach.

Pregnancy discrimination in the workplace.

The FDA has approved new screening methods for cervical cancer.


Mental Health:

Connecticut is holding a 16-year-old trans girl of color and survivor of violence in an adult men’s prison, putting her at great physical and psychological risk.

New research suggests the mental and physical toll of bullying persists for decades.



How one state convinced its “young invincibles” to get health insurance.

Helpful tips on changing health insurance plans in the exchanges.

A recent poll analyzes public opinion on Obamacare in southern states with deep, Republican-led opposition to the law, while Democratic candidates around the country are becoming more vocal advocates.

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HJ News and Resource Roundup 4/18/14

Welcome back! This week, we’re continuing our Minority Health Month coverage of racial and ethnic health disparities and providing some updates on previously covered issues, like mental health care in detention and the prosecution of pregnant women who use drugs. Check it out below!

Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities:

Ten states ban people with felony drug convictions from ever receiving food stamps.

People of color breathe air that is 38% more polluted than white people’s–leading to a number of serious health issues.

Hispanic men are more likely than non-Hispanic white men to suffer from paternal depression during the first five years of parenthood.

The physical and emotional toll of stop and frisk on African American communities, told from one father’s perspective.

NPR on heightened teen pregnancy rates in Latina communities.


Sexual, Reproductive, and Maternal Health:

In a time where many young women consider sexual assault to be normal or expected behavior, sex education is working to instill in youth the importance of healthy relationships and mutual respect.

About one in five women uses prescription opioids during pregnancy, with particularly high rates in the south and among Medicaid holders.

We recently covered the dangerous increase in prosecutions of pregnant women who use drugs. Looks like the trend is catching on: Tennessee has just passed legislation to allow women to be prosecuted for assaultive offenses for illegal drug use during pregnancy.

NYLPI’s Disability Justice program is helping women with disabilities access comprehensive gynecological health care.Thanks to their advocacy, City Council has committed $5 million to HHC to build accessible examination rooms.


Access to Care:

A report on the health care needs of people involved in the sex trade in New York City. You can read a press release about the report here.

A short video on mental health and immigration detention.

One woman’s story about her experience with Obamacare.


The Here and Now: Local and Timely Issues:

Sign a petition to encourage mayor De Blasio to address “food deserts” in NYC.

Why gunshot victims seeking care in New York City hospital ERs may find themselves in handcuffs.

Staten Island police officers will begin carrying naloxone in a pilot program to equip first responders throughout the city with medication that reverses the effects of opioid overdoses.

The former director of the Health Justice program has been appointed the Commissioner of Immigrant Affairs! Congrats, Nisha!

Happy end of tax season! A friendly reminder that immigrants pay taxes, too.

Struggling safety net hospitals in Brooklyn are eager to apply for Medicaid waiver funds. Our very own Shena comments, calling for meaningful stakeholder involvement and input.

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HJ News and Resource Roundup 4/11/14

It’s National Minority Health Month and we have plenty of news on racial and ethnic health disparities, immigrant access to health care, and language barriers in the health system in this week’s news and resource roundup. We’ll also bring you articles on prison health and the latest on the rollout of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities

Read (now former) HHS Secretary Sebelius’ statement on National Minority Health Month here.

African-American children with autism are being diagnosed later than children of any other ethnic group.

Poverty and unstable households “ages” the genes of young black children.

Listen to this story about a California medical center that is training interpreters to provide language assistance in indigenous Mexican languages common in the region.

Sexual, Reproductive, and Maternal Health

On reproductive justice for women of color and the continued need for the Medicaid sterilization consent requirement.

An investigative report on pregnant detainees in immigration detention centers.

A report on crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) in NYC. CPCs are non-medical centers, staffed by untrained non-providers who distribute false and intentionally manipulative information to prevent abortion.

On the return of the back-alley abortions in Texas.

Prison Health

New York City prisons are not meeting the health needs of their mentally ill inmates.

Yet another report on treatment of people with mental illness in prisons.

The Vera Institute recently held an event on this issue. You can find information on the event and watch a video of the speakers here.

Here’s an academic perspective on health care discrimination and incarceration.


The ACA can reduce unnecessary incarceration of people experiencing mental illness and substance use disorders. The ACLU has released a primer on the ACA and the criminal justice system . Read press release here and download the toolkit here.

The ACA provides an unprecedented opportunity to expand coverage for people of color and reduce health disparities. Office of Minority Health Director Nadine Gracia talks about how the ACA is currently working to close the gap on health disparities.

This article explains the critical steps following enrollment that will ensure expanded access to health care for communities of color.

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HJ News and Resource Roundup 4/4/14

Sorry for our delay! We’re back this week with an extra special news and resource roundup. This week, we’ll be covering health disparities, reproductive health concerns across the pregnancy spectrum, the disturbing state of health care in America’s prisons, and ACA rollout analysis.

Health Disparities:

The learning gap between wealthy/white and poor/of color children begins early.

Tracking health disparities in the LGBTQ population nationwide.

A look at racial and ethnic health disparities in New Mexico, a state whose demographics may predict nationwide trends.

“A political system that fosters inequality limits the attainment of health.”

Sexual, Reproductive, and Maternal Health:

With the new mayoral administration, there have been some positive changes in teen pregnancy prevention messaging here in NYC. Yet many problems remain. More on how the stigmatization of teen mothers is both harmful and unwarranted here.

Challenges to birth control coverage under the ACA made it to the Supreme Court last week.

Abortion access and the ACA.

The dangerous trend of criminalizing pregnant women who use drugs is most likely to impact poor women, young women, and women of color–all of whom already experience disproportionately high rates of maternal and prenatal complications.

Happiness levels during pregnancy are lower for Black women than their non-Black counterparts.

Prison Health:

In Chicago, the largest mental health provider is the Cook County Jail. Advocates–and even the county sheriff–are calling for the reopening of closed mental health clinics and Medicaid coverage of mental health care services.

A look at the lasting health and social impacts of harsh mandatory sentencing.

A few weeks ago, we covered the landmark decision in the state of New York to restrict the use of solitary confinement. Here’s a great long-read on the mental and neurological health impact of solitary.

On the tragic death of Jerome Murdough, a homeless and mentally ill man who died in Rikers Jail.


There will be an enrollment extension for people who experienced technical issues accessing federal marketplace online.

Latinos still lag in enrollment rates.

Check out these helpful fact sheets on health coverage for people with disabilities.

Asian Americans and health enrollment.

Positive developments for survivors of domestic violence accessing health care.

One of the primary goals of ACA is to increase access to primary care. But what if mental health services could be provided in a primary care setting as well? For children, this may already be the case.

Nutrition and Wellness:

Active moms=active kids.

Google launches a tool to compare the nutritional value of different foods.

Faith, fellowship, and fitness.

Local and Timely News:

Our very own Jenn discusses the health concerns of medical workers in a New York City hospital.

More on NCBH.

New York is one of two states working toward a Basic Health Plan that will provide more affordable coverage for low-income families than they may find in the marketplace!

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

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Opinion: Three Ways Mayor de Blasio Can Up His Game on School Sports

Check out this opinion piece written for WNYC’s SchoolBook by our very own Jennifer Swayne! The piece illuminates three key steps the new mayoral administration can take to improve access to physical education in NYC public schools.

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