Trash kings

Trash kings There is substantial evidence that organized crime controls much of the solid waste disposal business in New York and elsewhere in the us.' T his is an extract from the opening passages of a 1986 us Congress report, Organized Crime's Involvement in the Waste Hauling Industry. The report collated congressional and state investigations on the garbage industry and drew on information gained during hearings held by New York assemblyman Maurice Hinchey in 1984. Asked by state lawmakers to dig up the dirt on trash crime, Hinchey had noted, "By bribing public officials and intimidating competitors, the syndicate has achieved a virtual and lucrative monopoly in waste disposal. The racketeers charged steep fees to dispose of toxic and hazardous waste, then mix them with regular garbage and dump them into landfills.'

How did organised crime come to exercise sway over garbage hauling business?

Let's go back to the end of the 19th century. New York then had a waste management programme that included recycling and composting. The state's streets cleaning commissioner George Waring had, in 1894, prohibited dumping garbage in the Atlantic Ocean. But the recycling programme was scrapped at the beginning of the 20th century. As the city's population and waste stream grew in coming decades, the city supplemented ocean dumping with landfills and incinerators. A successful federal lawsuit brought by a coalition of New Jersey coastal cities forced the city to end ocean dumping in 1935. But ambitious plans for new incinerators had to be scaled down during the Great Depression and World War ii.

The rubbish heap mounted. In an effort to stem the rising tide, in 1957 the city's municipal authorities stopped collecting commercial waste, instead requiring businesses to hire private companies to take their garbage away. This strategy succeeded in diverting some of the waste stream to incinerators and landfills outside the city. But, according to historian John McCrory, "This shift created a business that soon became a mafia cartel that inflated the cost of private garbage collection by up to ten times the reasonable market price.' La Cosa Nostra