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NYC’s Budget Priorities, Spotlight on Waste Equity

NYC-EJA & BK ROT, August 2020


Given NYC fiscal year 2021 budget’s deprioritization of sustainable waste management, climate justice, and environmental justice for Black and Brown communities, the following recommendations are made for NYC’s Fiscal Year 2022 budget in order to advance waste equity and uplift our communities. In the meantime, we urge our Federal, State and local governments to innovatively support and fund these priorities. For more details on some of these recommendations, please see NYC-EJA’s 2020 Climate Justice Agenda.


  • Expansion of curbside organics collection to all residences citywide: Every NYC resident deserves access to curbside organics collection. NYC generates over 14 million tons of “waste” each year, with over ⅓ of our residential waste stream being compostable. Instead of sending most of our compostable waste to transfer stations, landfills, and incinerators, that create irreversible damages mostly befalling Black and Brown communities, NYC should invest in residential organics collection. NYC must prioritize historically underserved communities, such as public housing residents and those previously excluded from local City composting options.

  • Fund NYCHA recycling programs: There is no comprehensive recycling program in our City’s public housing, leaving recycling rates in these buildings at less than 1% for approximately 400,000 NYC residents (about the size of Tulsa or Minneapolis). These are government-funded buildings that should be leaders in modeling sustainable, affordable, and livable residential practices. 

  • Full restoration and expansion of public food scrap drop-off sites: If NYC is unable to implement curbside organics, the City should prioritize opening at least one public food scraps drop off site per community district. 

  • Building local organics infrastructure and contracting with local organics waste processors: The City must expand processing organic waste locally from community gardens or enclosed organics processing facilities. Each community district should have at least one local organics processing option. This creates opportunities for local jobs, educational opportunities, community building as well as compost that has the potential to grow nutrient rich foods, mitigate flooding, heal lead-burdened soils, and increase the soil’s capacity to store carbon.  Currently, some of DSNY’s long-term export contracts require a minimum amount of waste be shipped to incinerators, like the Covanta facility in Newark, New Jersey, which burns and spews toxins among working class Black and Brown community members. These contracts are about profit, not about communities where waste is trucked, stored, or burned. We know these lead to respiratory problems that exacerbate health issues during both COVID-19 and extreme heat crises.

  • Fund climate justice jobs: This includes jobs in waste collection, processing, and infrastructural development - as well as jobs in renewable energy, climate resilience, urban greening, and other industries to create a more regenerative and sustainable economy. Composting is a huge ally in our fight to address the climate crisis. Composting can help restore our soils, mitigate flooding, nourish tree pits that cool our communities, and increase our capacity to grow food. 

  • Retrofitting NYC’s hazardous waste transfer stations: Climate justice jobs should include the work to ensure that existing facilities are compliant with legislation and zoning regulations, and improving those regulations that enable poorly operating facilities to be “grandfathered” into Black and Brown communities. The high standards used at DSNY-operated Marine Transfer Stations should be employed at all waste facilities in communities of color. As stated above, waste transfer can be reduced to these neighborhoods by diverting waste from the landfill and incineration pipelines, including via hyperlocal processing of organics and other recyclable materials. 

  • Diverting waste from poorly-operating facilities to DSNY’s Marine Transfer Stations: This requires opening and running all of the City’s seven Marine Transfer stations - which reduce round-trip truck traffic and operate with safer and healthier practices for communities and workers than the commercial counterparts- as decreed under the City’s  2006 Solid Waste Management Plan, in order to reduce waste burdens on a handful of Black and Brown communities in the City. 

  • Summer Youth Employment Program - Climate Justice Jobs: We have an opportunity to invest in youth jobs that transition our society toward environmental and climate justice. Powerful youth-led movements demanding climate action on the scale of the crisis we face show the interest in regenerative, green jobs that advance climate solutions. By creating more youth jobs that mitigate our contribution to the climate crisis and support our adaptation, we can support building powerful leaders in climate and environmental justice. 

  • Investing in hyper-local, sustainable modes of transportation: Invest in microhauling, human-powered and zero- and low-emissions vehicles to transport organics to local processing facilities. This includes access to more local organics processing sites (and upgrading sites to make safe and accessible to bike and e-bike infrastructure), investing in electric waste vehicles and charging stations, and funding emerging and existing microhaulers. 


Beyond the budget

NYC elected officials have the opportunity to change the political landscape to facilitate organics collection and local processing capacity.

  • Update Local Law 145 (waste truck emissions law) and mandate compliance without loopholes or waivers.

  • Supporting increased composting on Department of Parks and Recreation land: Community composting aligns with City zero waste and climate justice goals, and provides free soil amendments for City park soils. NYC Department of Parks and Recreation land should encourage local composting that benefits community members.

  • Reduce the amount of waste generated: Strong extended producer-responsibility laws (as opposed to ones with weak enforcement mechanisms) promise to reduce waste generated via corporate packaging and shipping methods, and should be implemented to reduce the overall waste generated in the City. 

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