Time for Trash Equity in New York City

Everyone who cares about the health of our planet and its people owes a big thank-you to the environmental justice movement for its role in organizing last month’s phenomenal People’s Climate March. 

So what better time than now to help resolve one of the top environmental justice priorities in New York City today -- securing equity in the siting of waste transfer stations.

 John Minchillo

Last month’s People’s Climate March was rightly heralded for its size and diversity, thanks in large part to planning and participation by environmental justice organizations. Isn’t it high time to address one of the EJ community’s long-standing concerns in New York City -- trash equity?  (Photo: John Minchillo)


Twenty-five years ago the voters of New York City enacted one of the most sweeping reforms to the city’s governmental structure in almost a century.  They voted to revise the New York City Charter -- the document that serves as our municipal constitution – and to add to it, among other things, a new “fair share” provision.

The objective of the fair share requirement was to insure a more equitable distribution of the burdens and benefits of city facilities.

Unfortunately, the promise of fair share has not yet been fully realized in the nation’s largest city -- at least with respect to solid waste transfer facilities.

As the city’s last landfills closed in the 1980’s and 1990’s, thousands of tons of solid waste have been trucked to and from privately-operated land-based transfer stations every day.

For years, about 75% of the city’s waste has been sent to transfer stations located in just three city neighborhoods -- North Brooklyn, the South Bronx and Southeast Queens. These facilities, even when they have complied with all of the conditions in the environmental permits, have subjected their neighbors to increased truck traffic, air pollution, noise and other environmental burdens.

Fortunately, legislation has just been introduced in the New York City Council that would take a big step in righting these historic wrongs and help redeem the promise of fair share.

“New York City environmental justice groups join labor organizations and other concerned citizens at City Hall rally to support Levin/Reynoso legislation.  It is aimed at reducing disproportionate number of waste handling transfer stations that have for years burdened residents in North Brooklyn, South Bronx and Southeast Queens.

The legislation, now titled Intro. 495, would phase-in reductions in the amount of waste the city’s three most overburdened neighborhoods would handle. Specifically, it would implement the commitments of the city’s 2006 Solid Waste Management Plan by reducing over time the amount of waste trucked into these three disproportionately affected communities by 18%. It would also protect all neighborhoods around the city by limiting new permit capacity for private waste transfer stations in any area that already has more than 5% of the City’s permitted waste load.

The bill was introduced by Councilmembers Steve Levin and Antonio Reynoso (who chairs the Council’s Committee on Sanitation and Solid Waste Management). Joining the opening press conference in front of City Hall, and speaking in favor of the legislation were Councilmembers Andy King, Daneek Miller, Donovan Richards and Brad Lander.

Many of the city’s most prominent environmental justice organizations and a wide range of other constituencies are leading the charge to advance this legislation. They include: the New York Environmental Justice Alliance, the New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, UPROSE, Sustainable South Bronx, OUTRAGE, the Morningside Heights/West Harlem Sanitation Coalition, and The Point, as well as labor groups including Teamsters Local 813.

At a City Hall press conference the other day, when the sponsors presented the latest version of this legislation, many of the community representatives highlighted the connection between the multiple, poorly operating waste transfer stations in their neighborhoods and the high rates of asthma and other lung problems that have plagued local residents.

Passage of this legislation, said North Brooklyn Councilmember Antonio Reynoso, would be a much-needed “demonstration of the City’s commitment to borough equity for processing waste.” 

About the Authors

Eric A. Goldstein

Senior Attorney and New York City Environment Director

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