Nighttime set out of commercial waste. Test strategies for improving collection.  

Evidence-based policies require data. There is little data on actual building-level waste generation rates, the correlation between behavior and waste diversion and contamination or the various impacts of different collection strategies. Our overarching recommendation is to collect data that will allow evaluation of alternative procedures for reducing waste. The questions that follow related to behavior, operations and logistics and health illustrate the kinds of data that will be needed to develop and evaluate pilots and guide effective policy.


Equal Convenience Location of Waste Streams

Research indicates that locating bins for recyclables and trash in the same place increases diversion rates. Municipalities such as San Francisco and Milan are basing their decisions to close trash chutes on the logical inference that making organics disposal as convenient as trash disposal will increase diversion. But trash chutes offer convenience, especially in high-rise buildings, and these cities have many fewer buildings with trash chutes than NYC does. The relative costs and benefits must be better understood: ←  Researchers found that logistical challenges in multi-unit and high-rise buildings reduce diversion of recyclables and organics by an average of 11% (especially if there’s a chute for refuse but not other streams). Judith A. Layzer et al., “Municipal Curbside Compostables Collection: What Works and Why,” work product of the Urban Sustainability Assessment Project, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Department of Urban Studies and Planning (2014), 25, link; DSNY came to similar conclusions in its 2001 report “New York City Recycling in Context” (8/2001): 31, link.

  • How do co-location, convenience and visibility of bins for separate waste streams affect diversion and contamination rates and operations costs? (See StuyTown case study.)
  • How do physical factors such as building height and convenience of central waste area, and operational factors such as level of staffing, affect these outcomes?

Convenience of Disposal

Some research concludes that moving bins closer to an apartment improves diversion rates, but more data is needed.

Data and Feedback Loops

Could communicating waste data to generators and staff affect behavior?

  • Does a display in the lobby showing waste generation and diversion rates lead to better performance?
  • Do smart chutes and other methods to pass SAYT savings on to an individual make a difference? If they do, in what kind of buildings, and are they equally effective for all populations? ←  Opportunities for chute interface are discussed in Jesse Shelpins and Matt Brewer’s “Smart Trash Chute,” Sidewalk Talk blog, Sidewalk Labs (8/2017), link.

Acceptance of Shared Containers and Drop Offs

In the U.S. today, waste containers are considered eyesores, best hidden from public view. What can we learn from cities that are experimenting with shared containers and bringing drop off facilities closer to where people live? (See Punt Verd and Paris Trilib case studies.)

  • Can the design of waste hubs create social activity and help nudge the public to perceive waste as a valuable resource?   
  • What is the maximum distance people will go to dispose of their waste?
  • How does status of location affect use: i.e., within a courtyard or semi-private space, near public right of way but adjacent to an entrance, or on the curb?
  • How does the planning and implementation process impact neighborhood acceptance?
  • Could Adopt-a-basket type programs and other volunteer oppor-tunities ensure that containers are kept clean and in good repair?
  • How does container or facility design impact use?

DSNY research looking at issues of VMT and commercial collection

Operations and Logistics

Impacts of Containerization

Shared compactor containers were installed in Battery Park City to reduce rat populations, but they also ended up improving streetscapes, building operations, and collection efficiency. Data is needed on the costs and benefits of containerized collection. For example: ←  NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene researchers are analyzing the impact of waste management strategies on rat infestations. Sarah Johnson et al., NYC DOHMH, “Characteristics of the Built Environment and the Presence of the Norway Rat in New York City: Results From a Neighborhood Rat Surveillance Program, 2008–2010,” Journal of Environmental Health (6/2016).

  • How does containerization impact rodents and pests?
  • How are building operations affected when waste is transported off site?
  • How does waste handling (1-8 cu yd containers, wheeled bins
    or bags) impact worker injury rates?
  • What are the relative impacts of trucks collecting containers versus manually loaded bags on air quality both in terms of hourly rates and aggregate emissions due to relative truck miles required?
  • How do containerized and non-containerized collection impact accident rates, noise volumes and traffic congestion?
  • Data is needed to determine the appropriate equipment for shared collection and drop off locations based on NYC-specific conditions.
  • What capacity of shared container and what frequency of collection is appropriate for different neighborhoods and generator types?


Waste Handling in Buildings and Asthma

It is well established that cockroaches, mice, and other garbage-loving pests cause asthma (both as risk factors for new cases and as attack triggers in asthmatic individuals). Little is known, however, about the potential asthma-related health ramifications of alternative waste handling strategies. ←  For example, see research on impacts of waste handling interventions within apartments in Patrick Kinney et al., “On the Front Lines: An Environmental Asthma Intervention in New York City,” American Journal of Public Health 92, vol. 1 (6/2002), link.

  • What role do chutes, compacters, and waste storage strategies play?

When DOH Policies Increase Waste

There are many NYC DOH policies that lead to single-use items such as disposable containers and food handling gloves. It would be valuable to compare NYC policies with those in other places. For example, current policy  does not allow businesses to place food in a container a customer brings from home. Current collaborations between DOH, industry and M-SWAB to develop best practices for reusable “to go” containers could be expanded with experiments aimed at protecting public health while decreasing waste. ←  Eliminating single-use disposables in New York City requires policy change at both the city and state level. Article §81.46 of the NYC Health Code allows for the use of customers’ reusable beverage containers in restaurants, quick-service food establishments and delis; New York state regulates all statewide food retail operations, from supermarkets to bodegas. According to section 271-8.3, the state’s food safety regulations on dispensing utensils, personal containers are not allowed.

  • How significant is the risk of putting food into a container that a customer has washed in their own home compared to contamination that occurs within the store?
  • Are there container filling practices that can minimize risk?


Next Section: Implementation Recommendations →