At home, your trash gets picked up by the city. But what about at your local bodega or favorite restaurant? Who picks that trash up? Where does it go? And why should we care?

Commercial waste in NYC is a complicated, dirty, and dangerous industry. Over 200 companies compete to pick up the 5.5 million tons of trash NYC businesses create each year. Because few rules control the commercial waste industry, companies are competing in a race to the bottom to haul waste at the cheapest price. This leaves industry workers vulnerable to low wages and dangerous working conditions. Workers transport it all to transfer stations in Brooklyn, Queens, and the South Bronx, where low-income communities of color bear the environmental burden of processing all this waste. On top of it all, up to 90% of this trash could be recycled—but only 25% of it is!

CUP collaborated with ALIGN, Transform Don’t Trash NYC, and animator Cole Hannan to shed light on the dirty secrets behind NYC’s commercial waste. This short animation follows a discarded milk jug on its journey from trashcan to landfill, exposing the impacts the current commercial waste system has on workers, community members, and the environment. The video also features the faces of real people engaged in the fight for a cleaner, more equitable commercial waste system, including youth from the community development non-profit The Point in the South Bronx and former commercial waste workers.

Resources & Links

ALIGN’s mission is to create good jobs, vibrant communities, and an accountable democracy for all New Yorkers.

Transform Don’t Trash NYC is a campaign to transform the commercial waste industry in NYC to create good jobs and clean and safe communities for all New Yorkers.

Cole Hannan is a director/animator/all-around-visual-artist based in Brooklyn, NY.

Public Access Design is a program of the Center for Urban Pedagogy (CUP). Public Access Design projects use design to make complex urban issues accessible to the New Yorkers most affected by them.

Funding Support

Support for this project was provided by the James Conlon Fund and public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council. Additional support for this project was provided by Council Member Antonio Reynoso.

Special Thanks

Frampton Tolbert; Christine Gaspar; Christy Herbes; Oscar Nuñez; Sandy Xu; Kristi Barnes; Plinio Cruz; Natasha Dwyer; Justin Gomez; Allan Henry; Ron Morrison; Rebecca Rosado; Justin Wood; International Brotherhood of Teamsters Joint Council 16 & Locals 813, 831 and 210; New York City Environmental Justice Alliance; New York Lawyers for the Public Interest; National Resources Defense Council; Manhattan Solid Waste Advisory Board; The Point


  • CUP
  • Ingrid Haftel
  • Advocacy Partner
  • Keith Brooks
  • Brigid Flaherty

  • Transform Don’t Trash NYC
  • Advocacy Partner
  • Cole Hannan 
  • Animator & Designer