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Think Zero LLC Waste Reduction and Diversion Policy Briefing

December 2020

First, we’re proud to share that Think Zero participated in the legislative process for the first time, as a founding member of the #SaveOurCompost coalition, which successfully fought to restore funding for community composting in NYC. We’re continuing to advocate for the community composting nonprofits Big Reuse and the Lower East Side Ecology Center to remain in their compost yards, rather than have to find new permanent locations. You can read more about the current situation here.

Although this was an extremely difficult year, and most of the legislation focused on COVID-19, we had some positive developments in NYC waste legislation:

  • New York State’s plastic bag ban started in March 2020, though it was not enforced at that time due to a lawsuit from Poly-Pak Industries. The court upheld the ban, and enforcement began on October 19, 2020.

  • New York’s Governor Cuomo signed a PFAS ban in food packaging. PFAS, sometimes used in pizza boxes and compostable packaging, are known as “forever chemicals” with documented negative impacts on human health.

  • NYC expanded its organics recycling (i.e. composting) requirements for commercial businesses. As of July 31, 2020, additional food service establishments (such as restaurants, delis, coffee shops, cafeterias), retail food stores, food preparation locations, catering establishments, and temporary public events must separate their food scraps for beneficial use. This is the third phase of the commercial organics requirements, building off of the 2016 and 2018 DSNY rules.

New Jersey also passed crucial pieces of waste legislation:

  • New Jersey’s Governor Murphy signed a law that bans single-use bags, both plastic and paper, as well as food containers and cups made of polystyrene foam (commonly known as Styrofoam). This law will go into effect in May 2022, and is the strongest bag ban in the country.

  • Governor Murphy signed a plastic straw upon request law, which will go into effect in November 2021.

  • Governor Murphy also signed a landmark environmental justice bill that recognizes “the disproportionate environmental and public health impacts of pollution on overburdened communities.” It states, “It is past time for the State to correct this historical injustice” and going forward will, “limit the future placement and expansion of such facilities [like incinerators] in overburdened communities.”

We applaud New Jersey’s lawmakers for signing these vital laws into effect, and applaud the many groups that pushed for their introduction and passage.

Colorado created a nearly $1 million fund to study end-market recycling businesses in the state, create policy and legislative recommendations regarding extended producer responsibility, and administer a state-wide recycling education campaign.

Bales of recyclables on a truck

Colorado, like New York, is now also regulating PFAS chemicals for the first time, specifically with regard to firefighting foam. Colorado communities have been pushing for this legislation for years, as their drinking water was contaminated with PFAS from firefighting foam.

We highlighted Colorado, New York, and New Jersey as this is where the majority of Think Zero’s clients are located, but there is also waste legislation being developed and passed in other states. We will flag this where appropriate for clients.

On a federal level, the EPA set a non-binding goal to increase the national recycling rate to 50% by 2030. To achieve this, it will focus on three areas:

  • Reduce contamination in recycling

  • Make recycling processing system more efficient

  • Strengthen the economic markets for recycled materials

As Waste Dive reported, based on the EPA’s latest waste data, as a country the US is recycling less--not more--in recent years. The national recycling rate was 35% in 2017, and fell to 32% in 2018, “dropping to the lowest level recorded since 2006.” Having goals is important, but must be backed up with legislation.

Waste Dive also reported that there has been a, “historic influx of recycling legislation in Congress,” although none of these bills have been signed into law yet. The bill Save Our Seas 2.0 was passed by both the House and Senate, and awaits President Trump’s signature. The bill includes a Genius Prize for Save Our Seas Innovations, amendments to the Marine Debris Act, and improving domestic infrastructure to prevent marine debris by funding studies and grant programs.

Several environmental groups have criticized Save Our Seas 2.0 as being inadequate, and not focusing on the root issues of plastic pollution. According to Brett Hartl, the government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity, the law, “is so woefully inadequate to the scale of the crisis that it is really very little more than a distraction endorsed by the plastics industry to keep our attention away from the focusing on real solutions to the problem.”

As a reminder, if you live in NYC, the following new state and city waste regulations will go into effect over the next couple of years:

  • NY State: paint recycling program, starting November 1, 2021

  • NY State: donation of excess food and recycling of food scraps, starting January 1, 2022

  • NY State: ban on polystyrene / Styrofoam (NYC already banned Styrofoam, effective of January 2019)

  • NYC: commercial waste zones. The process has been delayed due to COVID-19, but is moving forward in 2021, with proposals from haulers due in February

Below are more details about these New York regulations.

Effective: November 1, 2021

New York became the 10th state to enact a paint recycling program, which will allow individuals and businesses to drop off excess paint at convenient locations for reuse or proper disposal.

Before, NY’s local governments had to collect the paint and responsibly dispose of it, costing taxpayers around $25 million annually. This bill shifts the cost of disposal to the manufacturers and sellers of paint.

The other states that already have “Paint Stewardship Programs” are California, Colorado, Connecticut, Maine, Minnesota, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington.

Since implementing its program in July 2010, Oregon has collected and recycled over 1,000,000 gallons of paint.

Effective: January 1, 2022

All places that generate 4,000+ lb of excess food per week (such as supermarkets, colleges, and hospitals) must donate edible items to hunger-relief organizations and recycle (compost or anaerobically digest) the rest. The food recycling provision only applies if the location is within 25 miles of a compost or anaerobic digestion facility.

Produce ready for donation

The NRDC notes that this law does a number of valuable things:

  • Makes food donation the norm rather than the exception

  • Follows the EPA’s food rescue hierarchy by prioritizing food donation over food recycling

  • Requires donors to report the number of pounds that they donate each year

  • Will keep 250,000 + lb of food from going to landfills / incinerators each year

This law excludes NYC since it already has its own local organics recycling law, which encompasses more establishments.

Effective: January 1, 2022

In April 2020, New York State passed a statewide ban of expanded polystyrene (commonly known as Styrofoam), including single-use foam food containers and packing peanuts.

As explained on the NY State website, “Polystyrene is a concern for the environment, as well as human health and safety. It is difficult to recycle and one of the top 10 contributors of environmental litter, causing negative impacts to wildlife, waterways, and other natural resources, as well as littering communities and natural areas.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' National Toxicology Program has listed styrene, a chemical found in expanded polystyrene foam, as a reasonably anticipated human carcinogen that can be transferred from expanded polystyrene foam containers into food and beverages that people consume.”

NYC already has a ban on polystyrene, which went into effect in 2019.

Timeline: The original timeline has been pushed back due to COVID-19, but is moving forward in 2021, with proposals from haulers due in February

This bill overhauls NYC’s commercial waste industry:

  • NYC is now divided into at least 20 commercial waste zones

  • Each zone will be serviced by three hauling companies. These hauling companies are in turn able to subcontract with up to two designated carters in each zone

  • No hauling company can operate in more than 15 zones

  • Separately, there will be five citywide contracts for containerized service (i.e. compactors or dumpsters used by large buildings like hospitals)

  • Once the contracts are awarded, they will be valid for 10 years

  • Haulers cannot refuse to service customers in their zone

Sustainability initiatives included in the bill:

  • Haulers must offer organics (i.e. composting) collection

  • Organics and recycle must be less expensive than trash

  • Haulers must offer third-party waste audit services to all customers

  • Haulers must try to use zero-emission vehicles with the goal of using 50% zero emissions vehicles by 2030 and 100% by 2040

Safety initiatives included in the bill:

  • Haulers must provide 40+ hours of worker safety training to all vehicle operators and helpers and 8 hours to all other employees

Pricing transparency included in the bill:

  • There is now a rate floor to prevent hauling companies from offering low rates by underpaying its workers

  • The city can also create a rate ceiling to prevent overcharging

  • Haulers must provide written service agreements to all of their customers and an itemized monthly bill if requested

The commercial waste zones excludes certain waste streams including:

  • Construction and demolition (C&D) debris

  • Hazardous or radioactive waste

  • Medical waste

  • Electronic waste

  • Textiles

  • Yard waste collected by landscapers

  • Waste collected by a one-time, on-call bulk waste removal service

  • Grease

  • Papers collected for the purposes of shredding or destruction

  • Waste that is collected by a micro-hauler

This legislation is based on years of research and debate. In October 2015, DSNY studied the current commercial waste collection system, and found that it is highly inefficient. This new system is expected to improve safety and reduce pollution and traffic.

According to this study the zoning system will:

  • Reduce vehicle miles traveled (VMT) between 49% and 68%, with the largest decreases occurring in Manhattan and the Bronx

  • Reduce harmful air emissions substantially, including a potential reduction of 42% - 64% in greenhouse gas emissions and a reduction of 34% - 62% in criteria air pollutants, which are linked to asthma and other respiratory illnesses

  • Decrease the waste cost for small customers, which pay approximately 38% more than larger customers for their trash removal, largely because there is little transparency in rates and because smaller customers have reduced bargaining power

  • Reduced traffic congestion

  • Reduce nighttime noise associated with duplicative collections

  • Reduce diesel fuel oil consumption by 3.5 million gallons per year

  • Reduce roadway wear and tear

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