Boro-Wide Recycling is a Queens based private trash hauling company, and just in case anyone forgets the fact, its bright green and orange liveried trucks are outfitted with stickers declaring them kings of the borough.
Mike Cristina has run the family business since it opened in 1993, and his drivers head out across Brooklyn and Queens each night to pick up commercial waste. Right now, he can send trucks to wherever his clients are, no matter how inefficient the route.
But that is all set to change thanks to a just-passed city council bill that will divide private waste collection into predetermined zones. The bill succeeded despite resistance from a variety of players including a lobbying group companies like Boro Wide had funded over the years. They say the changes will lead to monopolies edging out smaller carters, but advocates for the bill maintain it will bring safety improvements to a notoriously dangerous business.
“The customer is going to get hurt. The top 25 companies are going to gain customers,” Cristina said.
The legislation would require the Department of Sanitation to evaluate the safety records of companies bidding to work in the new zone system, with three companies allowed to work each zone.
This represents a compromise, since the original bill called for just one carter in each.
Cristina says that a culture of safety has already started changing the industry, and smaller companies have already been forced to shut their doors. “It’s already happening naturally. We’re ok with that – but the zone systems are bad,” he said.
Cristina says that the contractions under a new zone system will be bad for business because bigger companies with more cash will be able to edge companies like his out with more competitive pricing.
“Obviously [the bigger companies] can raise money at will, and lose money at will, until they knock out the competition.”
Meanwhile, advocates say that companies will be required to operate more safely and efficiently. The new zones would eliminate millions of miles of truck traffic each year, according to a Department of Sanitation Study.
One long-time backer of the zone reform bill has been the local Teamsters Union. Alex Moore, a spokesman for the group, criticized efforts to water down the legislation, including a competing bill supported by a smaller group of city council members.
“They put forward this anti zoning bill and have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars lobbying for it, and there’s only five council members backing it” he said.
“They told the carters that they were going to stop this policy and they haven’t really had any impact whatsoever.”
Moore said that more needs to be done to take dangerous garbage trucks off city streets, and the bill offers some remedy to the situation. Last year, a poorly maintained truck lost a wheel as it flew down a city highway, killing another driver.
“Century waste is still on the street after a pretty awful and seemingly preventable crash happened,” he said of the incident.
The warnings of monopolies taking over the carting industry haven’t fazed some business owners, who hope the reform will bring some organization to what they felt was an unfair system for small business owners.
Youssef Mubarez is the public relations director for the Yemeni American Merchants Association. The group represents about 4,000 small businesses — many of them delis needing timely trash pickup.
He said his group backed the zone reform bill because the current system is unfair to small business owners. “Somebody just drops in when you first open, throws you a card, and says ‘I’m your carter now’,” he explained.
“Their trash doesn’t get picked up, they’re paying high prices,” he added.
The proposed rules would allow the Department of Sanitation to step in and arbitrate disputes over service and costs.
An appeal on Boro-Wide Recycling’s website still calls on visitors to send a message to voice their opposition to the waste bill. It warns that “just two companies could control the entire city.”
While Cristina didn’t say if he was anticipating layoffs at his company, he said the industry will shed jobs thanks to thew new rules.
“You’re not going to need as many trucks in a zone, compared with us competing today,” he said.
“Jobs are gonna be eliminated. That’s what consolidation is about.”