Testimony

The Real Estate Board of New York to The Committee on Sanitation and Solid Waste Management on Intros. 244-2022, 274-2022, 275-2022, 280-2022, and 281-2022

Alexander Shapanka

Assistant Vice President of Policy

June 14, 2022

The Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY) is the City’s leading real estate trade association representing commercial, residential, and institutional property owners, builders, managers, investors, brokers, salespeople, and other organizations and individuals active in New York City real estate. REBNY thanks the Committee for the opportunity to testify on organic waste collection and zero waste goals.


Between our homes, offices, restaurants, other businesses and institutions, New Yorkers collectively dispose of 14 million tons of garbage a year. With such a staggering volume of waste, effective waste management is essential to achieving a just, clean, sustainable, and modern city.


Thanks to a variety of initiatives from the City, including but not limited to Zero Waste Building Maintenance Training, electronic recycling program, and expanding education on zero waste in schools, New York has continued to produce less waste annually since 2005. However, the volume of organic waste has remained constant and accounts for 34% of waste in NYC.


Organic materials, including food scraps, food-soiled paper, and yard, is the largest category of discards of the Department of Sanitation’s (DSNY) waste stream. While the City has made efforts to improve its organic waste management through programs such as curbside collection, neighborhood drop-off, and commercial organic waste source separation, the City only collects 6.6 tons of organic waste a day, which pales in comparison to the pre-pandemic figures of 10,331 tons of refuse, 2,200 of recycling, and 202 tons of street dirt DSNY collections daily.


REBNY supports the goal of having zero waste sent to landfill. But to achieve it is a complicated undertaking that will need ample runway and a multipronged approach.


As these policies are considered, it is important to keep in mind that the costs of organic collection are significantly higher than other waste. According to NYC’s Independent Budget Office, organic material collection and processing costs $734 per ton, which is 3.3 and 3.5 times the cost for inorganic waste and recycling, respectively. To effectively scale up organic waste from landfill the City will need to explore new forms of investment and ensure the DSNY has the requisite resources to accomplish the task.


A key element in cost savings will be diminishing the volume of existing organic waste generated. Doing so will require the City to conduct extensive outreach and education to promote waste mitigation strategies just as it did in residential neighborhoods through canvassing and grassroots efforts in the launch of its Make Compost, Not Trash pilot program in parts of Queens and Brooklyn.


Other cities that have implemented Zero Waste goals have conducted significant outreach and education as well as explored and adopted different policies and programs that create a pragmatic and achievable approach to diverting waste from landfill. In Vancouver, for example, the local government has allocated resources to research and better understand the makeup of their waste streams, developed strategies to address each kind of waste, such as clothing and single-use items, and created comprehensive education campaigns to effectively approach its zero waste goals across all sectors. New York should look to other municipalities and learn from their tactics to develop and adopt our own comprehensive framework for waste diversion and organic waste collection.


REBNY supports improving New York’s waste management systems and stands ready to help the City reach its goal of zero waste to landfill on a timeline that enables the DSNY and other relevant stakeholders to create and implement the structures and programs necessary to make New York successful in diverting waste.


What follows is more targeted feedback on the related specific legislation:


BILL: Int 244-2022


SUBJECT: A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to residential curbside organics collection.


SPONSORS: Council Members Hanif, Adams, Won, Nurse, Bottcher Gennaro, Menin, Hudson, Cabán, Powers, Brewer, Rivera, Sanchez, Marte, Stevens, de la Rosa, Ung, Ossé, Avilés, Restler, Dinozwitz, Abreu, Krishnan, Ayala, Moya, Jordan, Riley, Holden, Guitiérrez, Barron, Feliz, Louis, Narcisse, Brannan, Lee, Velázquez, (by request of the Brooklyn Borough President)


Int. 244 would require DSNY to establish a mandatory citywide residential organic waste curbside collection program to divert waste from landfill for R-2 buildings. The Department would be required to create the program by January 15, 2023. The bill would also require the DSNY institute a mandatory program for R-3 buildings by June 15, 2023. Under the proposal, organic waste collection would begin by January 15, 2024, and the DSNY would have to provide annual reporting to the Mayor and the Council Speaker on the volume of waste diverted from landfill. It would also necessitate DSNY establish outreach and education programs to inform residents on the organic waste programs. Building owners and managers would be responsible for distributing that information to residents. Failure to comply with the proposal would lead to civil penalties.

REBNY appreciates the intent of the legislation and supports the ultimate goal of diverting waste from landfill. Organic waste collection is an essential step in the fight against climate change as well as maintaining a livable and healthy city. However, to do so effectively, there needs to be sufficient lead time to ensure the program is a success, which the current proposal does not provide.

It will take a concerted effort in education and outreach to ensure New Yorkers are aware of the organic waste program and how to comply. As part of the Make Compost, Not Trash campaign, DSNY recruited 50 volunteers to canvass 1,200 homes in two community districts over two months. New York City has over three million homes. The scale of operation to inform residents of the program and ensure they understand how to comply would be monumental. It is not realistic to mandate citywide outreach in less than six months. We encourage the City Council to work with the DSNY and other stakeholders to determine a more pragmatic and achievable timeframe.

Moreover, it is essential the City have time to conduct its education and outreach prior to the effective date of any organic waste collection program, as an indispensable step to reaching zero waste to landfill is stymieing the initial production of waste. Through education and outreach, DSNY will hopefully be able to mitigate residential waste production, which will in turn impact the volume of waste the Department will need to account for as it creates and implements a program.

Furthermore, operationally, the DSNY needs more lead time to establish a residential organics waste program and ensure staffing levels are adequate to administer such a program. The bill would require that DSNY begin collecting several thousand tons of organic waste in less than six months. For context, today, the City diverts 6.6 tons of organic waste daily from landfill. DSNY will need time to determine how it will adjust its collection process. More importantly, it needs time and resources to identify the space, develop the facilities and hire the staff necessary to process a volume of organic waste three times today’s order of magnitude.  

REBNY supports the intent of Int 244, but we encourage the Council to work with DSNY to develop a more pragmatic timeframe and ensure the Department has the resources necessary to effectively implement such a program.


BILL: Int 274-2022


SUBJECT: A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to establishing a goal of zero waste for New York City by 2030.


SPONSORS: Council Members Nurse, Bottcher, Ossé, Menin,  Adams, Guitiérrez, Hanif, Powers, Hudson, Brewer, Sanchez, Stevens, Yeger, Marte, Joseph, Ayala, Restler, Abreu, Krishnan,  Avilés, Rivera, Moya, Williams, Jordan, Riley, Holden, de la Rosa,  Cabán, Dinowitz, Won, Barron, Feliz, Louis, Narcisse, Brannan, Schulman,  Velázquez, Farías, (in conjunction with the Brooklyn Borough President)


Int. 274 would require DSNY to establish a goal of diverting all citywide generated waste from landfill by 2030. If the DSNY determines that such a goal is not feasible, it would be required to report such findings and make policy and program recommendations that could help achieve zero waste to landfill within 180 days of that determination.


REBNY supports the goal of diverting 100% waste from landfill, and while setting ambitious goals is laudable, the target must be achievable. In 2015, the de Blasio Administration set the goal of having zero waste by 2030.  Seven years on, New York has seen no appreciable change in waste diversion and the percent of organic waste to landfill has largely remained unchained for the better part of two decades.


Realizing this goal will require the City to have an up-to-date understanding of its waste streams and then have the capacity and resources needed to process waste instead of sending it to landfill, which is a challenging proposition. The time and money it will take to identify land and facilities that can intake and process the waste that is being diverted from landfill is substantial. For this reason, REBNY encourages the Council to grant DSNY enough time to conduct a comprehensive study of what resources, policies, and programs would be needed to achieve zero waste to landfill. Once the analysis is complete, Council should then reestablish a goal based on the report’s findings.


BILL: Int 275-2022


SUBJECT: A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to the goal of zero waste to landfill.


SPONSORS: Council Members Nurse, Cabán, Bottcher, Ossé, Menin, Gutiérrez, Hanif, Powers, Hudson, Brewer, Sanchez, Stevens, Yeger, Ayala, Restler, Abreu, Krishnan, Avilés, Rivera , Joseph, Marte, Moya, Williams, Jordan, Riley, Holden, de la Rosa, Dinowitz, Won, Barron, Feliz, Louis, Narcisse, Brannan, Schulman, Velázquez, Farías, (by request of the Brooklyn Borough President)


Int. 275 would require DSNY to create a plan to send zero waste to landfill by 2030. The report would be due by July 1, 2023 with subsequent annual reporting on progress thereafter. The plan would require a variety of mitigation and diversion strategies for different sectors, including residential and commercial. The report would also include an analysis of waste streams and availability of facilities and land that could be utilized to process that material.


REBNY supports Int. 275. The City cannot manage what it does not measure. Giving DSNY time to analyze what steps would be needed to achieve zero waste to landfill is a critical first step in improving NYC’s waste management systems.


REBNY encourages the Council and DSNY to further breakout different sectors in its analysis. Strategies to process commercial waste, for example, will vary wildly based on the tenancy of a building, and buildings with food establishments and restaurants will pose their own unique challenges.


BILL: Int 280-2022


SUBJECT: A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to community recycling centers.


SPONSORS: Council Members Powers, Rivera, Brewer, Nurse, Hanif, Cabán, Bottcher, Hudson, Menin, Stevens, Joseph, Ayala, Restler, Abreu, Krishnan, Avilés, Ossé, Marte, Moya, Williams, Dinowitz, Jordan, Riley, Gutiérrez, de la Rosa, Barron, Won, Feliz, Louis, Narcisse, Brannan, Schulman, Ung, Velázquez, Lee, Farías, (by request of the Brooklyn Borough President)


Int. 280 would require the DSNY to establish at least three community recycling centers in each community district by June 1, 2023. Each facility would need to operate for at least 20 hours per week for drop-offs. The recycling centers would need to accept inorganic materials as well as hazardous materials to the greatest extent practicable. The bill would also require community outreach and education as well as biannual reporting requirements on center operations.


REBNY supports the intent of the legislation. Creating more recycling centers is an essential step to achieving our shared climate goals and to environmental justice. Achieving the objectives of the legislation in the proposed timeframe will be challenging as the bill would require DSNY to establish three recycling centers in each community district citywide within one year. That represents several thousand square feet of land, which may be difficult to identify and expensive to aggregate if there is no City-owned land that could function for this purpose. Moreover, some identified parcels may need to through ULURP to be used and others may require additional approvals from other agencies like NY State Department of Environmental Conservation, which regulates the disposal of household hazard waste.


We look forward to supporting the Council in this initiative as it looks to create more community recycling.


BILL: Int 281-2022


SUBJECT: A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to organic waste drop off sites.


SPONSORS: Council Members Powers, Nurse, Rivera, Brewer, Hanif, Cabán, Bottcher, Hudson, Menin, Stevens, Joseph, Ayala, Restler, Abreu, Krishnan, Avilés, Ossé, Marte, Moya, Williams, Dinowitz, Jordan, Riley, Gutiérrez, de la Rosa, Won, Barron, Feliz, Louis, Narcisse, Brannan, Schulman, Ung, Velázquez, Lee, (by request of the Comptroller)


Int. 281 would require the DSNY to establish at least three community organic waste drop-off sites in each community district by June 1, 2023. Each facility would need to operate for at least 20 hours per week for drop-offs. The bill would also require community outreach and education as well as biannual reporting requirements on center operations.


DSNY began collecting organic waste in FY 2013 and has since rolled out and incrementally expanded curbside organics waste collection program. The City has already established over 200 organic waste drop-off sites. Given the importance of each community having equal access to organic waste drop-off facilities, REBNY supports Int. 281.


Thank you for the consideration of these points.