New York City's sprawling commercial waste system performs significantly worse on recycling and efficiency than previously believed. Under an inefficient and ad-hoc arrangement that developed over the past several decades, hundreds of private hauling companies collect waste from restaurants, stores, offices, and other businesses nightly and truck it to dozens of transfer stations and recycling facilities concentrated in a handful of low-income communities of color. This waste is then transferred to long-haul trucks and hauled to landfills as far away as South Carolina. Previously unpublished studies and new data reveal just how chaotic this system is and make clear that fundamental reform is needed if we are to follow through on the City's recently adopted commitment to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 80% by 2050.
As recognized by city officials, meeting this ambitious but attainable GHG goal will require rapid and substantial increases in the efficiency of our buildings, power production, transportation, and solid waste systems. In the solid waste sector, there is tremendous need for improvement and the City will fall far short of the progress it needs to make in reducing the environmental and public health impacts of our garbage if it focuses only on residential recycling while ignoring the failures of a larger, highly polluting and inefficient commercial waste system.