The State of Waste Collection - March 2024

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From the bustling streets of New York City all the way to the urban sprawl of Los Angeles, cities in the United States are implementing major plans to reform the waste collection industry. These changes won’t just affect those who are involved in the industry - they’ll affect you as well!

The actions of major cities in the United States indicate that waste collection reform is not just inevitable, its currently ongoing. For operators in these cities, this means a major restructuring of the way they do business. For their customers, this means greater responsibility for waste disposal, and potentially, higher service fees. 

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In New York City, the Department of Sanitation (DoS) recently began the implementation of their Commercial Waste Zones program. It is designed to address current problems with waste management, which the DoS deems to be “inefficient, hazardous, and unsustainable.” Consequently, this program is a major overhaul of waste collection operations in the city.

Currently, waste management in NYC is an inefficient system. Any given neighborhood might be serviced by a dozen haulers or more. With each hauler operating independently, this necessitates inefficient routing, and thus, a greater number of truck miles driven. Not only does this increase the industry’s carbon footprint, it also increases costs for the customer.

In order to remedy these issues, CWZ divides the city into 20 specific economic zones, with a maximum of three haulers operating in each one. This has the effect of significantly streamlining hauler operations, meaning reduced routing distances, and therefore costs, for haulers and their customers. The DoS estimates this plan will reduce truck miles driven by up to 12 million per year.

Another concern of the CWZ is the improvement of safety standards and worker protections. To this end, the program will require all trucks be equipped with safety technologies such as backup cameras and cross-over mirrors. Workers will also be required to complete additional safety training.

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The major changes made by the CWZ program will come at a cost. In cities where similar programs have been implemented, customers have seen steep increases in the price of waste disposal. In order to reduce their financial burden, CWZ requires at least one hauler in 18/20 zones to operate at a maximum rate below the Business Integrity Commission’s rate cap. This will establish a price ceiling for customers, as well as ensuring competitiveness between haulers.

Notably, the DoS retains the ability to end a hauler’s contract for any criminal offense that might indicate a lack of business integrity. This reflects the organization's commitment to providing a fair and equitable waste collection market for everyone - from hauler to customer.

To see an example of a similar plan, we need only look slightly further south, at Washington DC. The city has recently begun implementation of its zero-waste program, whose objectives closely match those of the NY DoS. 

Zero Waste DC’s stated goals are to reduce per capita waste generation, increase participation in recycling and composting programs, and ultimately reduce yearly waste sent to landfill by 80% by 2040. In order to achieve this waste diversion, the city will be employing a variety of initiatives.

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One major concern the program addresses is the accessibility of recycling and composting facilities. The program calls for additional infrastructure, such as the establishment of recycling “hubs” - facilities where residents can drop off waste items to be processed. These hubs will also be equipped to properly dispose of hard-to-recycle items, like batteries and textiles. By making recycling and composting more accessible to the public, Zero Waste D.C. seeks to improve overall participation.

Another prominent issue which the program shares with CWZ NY is the need for increased reporting from haulers. This is a paramount concern, as without accurate data, it would be impossible to gauge the effect of the program’s implementation. Key reporting metrics include tonnage, material type, and final destination of all waste material originating in the city.

The estimated cost for DC to make these changes is $913.5 million dollars by 2040. However, the cost saving measures of Zero Waste DC will offset this sum, bringing it down to $484 million. Of this, about $67 million dollars will be spent directly on community financial assistance and incentives.

To get a better understanding of the challenges which these two zero-waste programs might face, we can look at a similar plan which is already under way. The city of Los Angeles’ zero-waste program, RecycLA, began its implementation in 2017. It is currently under review by the city council due to unforeseen problems which have impacted its function.

The goals of RecycLA closely mirror those of both CWZ NY and Zero Waste DC. They include improved safety standards, reduced emissions, and more stringent reporting from haulers. Unfortunately, achieving these results has been an uphill battle so far.

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The LA Bureau of Sanitation and the Environment (LASAN's) original waste diversion target was 1 million tons by 2025. However, the city has announced that this goal is not likely to be met. One major reason for this is the slow adoption of composting services, which were not required at the time that the plan was implemented. The other, more pressing reason is economic. Customers are paying significantly more to dispose of their waste under RecycLA’s regulations.

Placing the economic burden of this plan solely on customers has resulted in rampant noncompliance. In order to avoid being charged expensive distance fees by haulers, some customers have resorted to moving bins to areas of their property not intended for waste pickup. Others overfill their bins, impairing hauler operations and incurring additional fees.

To tackle the problem of these customer costs, the City of Los Angeles has undergone a review process of their entire zero-waste program, with a focus on additional waste infrastructure, contract compliance, and the feasibility of LASAN providing additional support to haulers. The program’s economics are a key issue, and looking forward to the future, the city has suggested multiple solutions.

The three major options for LASAN are to renegotiate their hauler contracts, to open contracts to additional haulers through a RFP, or to assume operating services to one, multiple, or all established zones as needed. Each of these solutions has the intent of reducing the cost footed by the customer, making it easier for the program to meet its waste diversion goals.

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While the future of RecycLA has not yet been determined, it serves as an important example for other cities who plan to implement similar programs. Economic feasibility is a paramount concern, and costs should be shared between haulers and customers in order to facilitate a more equitable market. 

These three zero-waste programs share many similarities in terms of their goals. They also will face similar challenges, which makes it all the more important for new plans to learn from the deficiencies of existing ones. Placing the economic burden of funding these programs solely on customers practically guarantees noncompliance.

However, as time goes on, increased costs in the industry are inevitable. Landfill space is dwindling, particularly in the Northeast, reducing supply. As it dwindles further, the costs of waste disposal will inevitably rise.

If you notice an increase in your waste disposal costs, don’t panic. Remember that this increase is going towards creating a more safe and sustainable waste collection industry - something that impacts us all, directly or indirectly. 

At Rezzi, our goal is to help haulers and their customers streamline the many shifting changes happening in the waste collection industry. If you’re interested in learning more about how we’re doing so, contact us at!