Trash talk: Multi-channel solution for a new orleanian garbage problem

Part One: The Problem 

New Orleans has faced a travel surge: in 2018, data reported 18.5m visitors with a gain of $9.1bn in tourism revenue. The areas with the highest concentration of tourist magnets are the French Quarter, the Central Business District, and the Garden District. New Orleans’ high population of the low-wage labor force fills the hospitality industry roles that are garnering tourist attraction. 14,804 New Orleanians are under hire by the restaurant business only. New Orleans relies on tourism, and trash threatens New Orleans’ rates of tourism with its increase in size and problems in the city.

Think, hurricanes.

NBCU news reported, “bags of rotting trash still piled up along New Orleans’ curbs, attracting animals and creating health hazards and suffocating smells in the thick Louisiana heat.” 4WWL news provides statistics that 54,000 tons of debris and trash were measured after the hurricane, with only 3,000 tons picked up from labor forces. Mayor Latoya Cantrell addressed the trash issue as a crisis. Despite the severity of the situation, the city and Cantrell took two weeks to address the problem after Hurricane Ida. Residents faced seven weeks of little to no trash removal, and the crisis raged on as the city grappled with, as one 7th ward citizen remarked, the period as an “insect hell”.  

When Mayor Cantrell and the New Orleans Sanitation Committee devised a short-term solution, letting citizens drop off street trash at a processing facility, citizens protested. One New Orleans citizen said the city’s temporary garbage drop-off solution was “a slap in the face” as citizens pay for the trash removal service. Trash collection transport in citizens’ personal cars is a bio-hazard due to the link between lingering trash and pest and disease populations. A case study in Kenya by Stanford reported that 1,000 tons of trash bags collected in Kenya presented evidence of housing mosquito larvae. Stanford scientists found 3,521 children in litter-dense areas of Kenya to have prominent variants of malaria, chikungunya, and dengue fever. In 2021, cases of citizens carrying West Nile disease were reported in New Orleans. 

The service group that handles New Orleans waste disposal is Metro Service Group, and Metro has been New Orleans’ main contractor for the past 38 years. In 2017 a federal labor case was issued and investigated at Metro. One hundred Metro workers complained about a lack of overtime pay, daily wages, and lack of sanitized protective gear. Metro faced another strike in 2020 when fourteen workers complained about unfair pay again, even stirring in front of the Metro CEO’s mansion in New Orleans. Many metro workers, specifically trash hoppers, left the industry after this. In 2021, only 60% of the labor force trash hoppers remained at Metro compared to 2017.

All New Orleans’ trash ends up in the River Birch landfill. Another landfill was proposed by ex-mayor Ray Nagin in 2006 to be dumped at a site near New Orleans East, but after protests by the community that lived near the landfill, Nagin reversed his opinion. Since then, other waste removal options have been little discussed, and River Birch remains still the end all be all of trash collection sites even though Metro truckers have complained about the three-hour period it takes to dump trash at River Birch. The trash management system in New Orleans is linear, going from collection to processing to dumping in a straight line of facilities.

Trash along Bourbon Street in New Orleans, Louisiana, early on a Sunday morning.

Part Two: The Solution 

 Instagram today is occupied by 1.28 billion users, making up over a quarter’s percentage of the globe’s internet consumers. But, in 2010, when founder Kevin Systrom had just launched Instagram, it was a photosharing app focused on filters and based on photography online forums. Instagram wasn’t at this time measured on the success of followers, likes, users, engagement numbers, or media values. Today, however, Instagram is a capitalistic foundation for other companies, like Walmart, Amazon, Target, and even Meta itself, to utilize monetization. Instagram and Meta itself do this internally through monetization tools like in-app advertisements: promoted posts, and sponsored posts. Users can also employ these monetization tools with access to professional and business model account modes. Influencers and companies regularly make million-dollar deals. Today, companies like Nike, Spotify, and Amazon are shelving large sums of yearly ad and marketing budgets to use on the platform.

 Joe Gagliese, CEO and Founder of Viral Nation, a talent agency focused on promoting the careers of rising influencers across platforms. Gagliese speaks of Traackr, an influencer management platform that reports 72% of major brands specifically budgeting to gain traction with users on Instagram. Gagliese speaks of his clients that, on Instagram alone, are raking up a few thousand dollars per post to over 300,000 US dollars. 

Matilda Djerf: Matilda Djerf is the “it-girl” of the internet right now, with 2.9 million followers on Instagram and 1.2 million on TikTok.  Stockholm-based Djerf is one of the best-known influencers on Instagram, being searched over 13.8 billion times for her trademark curated feed: the “Scandinavian Aesthetic”. Djerf is the perfect example of a home-grown Instagram star. So how much is she making on the platform? The answer is she isn’t. 

Instead, Djerf in 2019 launched her own fashion label Djerf Avenue. Djerf Avenue reported  8 million US dollars in sales in 2021, and when asked about plans to seek further investors online in a Vogue Business article, she says, “The main reason you do that is for money, but we are growing, and we have enough money to put back into the business, for the time being.” Matilda Djerf is undoubtedly known for her influencer stardom. But, Djerf, despite the glitz and glamour, makes it known online that her real success story and most tangible income comes from the business side, her company Djerf Avenue which is entirely self-made and self-funded, without the aid of Instagram ad spend.

Natalia Schlater:  Natalia Schlater, in early 2019, had 12k followers as an Instagram model. When her account was active, Schlater regularly posted “thirst traps,” with one, in particular, a photo of Schlater on vacation in Bali, depicted facing a Balinese rice field wearing a bikini, distantly staring into the sun. Schlater faced backlash for the picture and its caption, which read. “Thinking about how different my life is from the man picking in the rice field every morning.” Schlater began to lose half of her 12k followers rapidly at the insensitive comment. Schlater later deleted her account in early January 2019, erasing the evidence of the Instagram incident. Schlater’s story is important because it shows that diversification is paramount and that, opposingly to Djerf, who, in theory, Schlater could have had a fairly similar online career, was erased from the internet because of her circumscribed presence on IG. 

Kendall Jenner: Kendall Jenner has 277 million followers on Instagram and is the 12th most followed person on Instagram. Jenner charges roughly 1.84 million per post. Jenner comes from the Reality TV-made celebrity Kardashian-Jenner clan as the daughter of Kris Jenner and former Olympian Caitlyn Jenner, both of who have a combined net worth of over 230 million dollars. Jenner is one of the highest-paid supermodels of all time (she signed to Wilhelmina Models at the age of 14 in 2009 with Kris’s industry connections.) Jenner has been one of many supermodels labeled a “Nepo Baby”, criticized as a top fashion model for access to previous wealth and rumored plastic surgery treatments  (Her family) is accused of enabling a plastic surgery craze). Jenner’s 818 Tequila company and  Kendall+Kylie clothing brand contribute the majority to Jenner’s net worth of 22 million dollars.

In an interview with Vox, Joe Gagliese of Viral Nation speaks on someone like Jenner, who checks off the privilege boxes. Gagliese, when asked what strategies there are to becoming an influencer, says: “You have a great chance of being an influencer if you do something new or trending. Unfortunately, though, beauty wins. We’ve seen some fashion brands that don’t want to work with bigger girls.” Gagliese acknowledges that influencers have the most opportunity when they have previous privileges, particularly beauty and wealth. Jenner’s privileges prove to do more than secure her spot on the Forbes list of highest-paid Instagram models– it also protects her from extinction. Jenner, in 2017, was most famous for her appearance in the Pepsi Ad Campaign activation that featured Jenner and a group of activists protesting. After the Black Lives Matter movement protests across the nation, the ad was deemed incredibly insensitive, and Pepsi Co and Kendall were in the wake of being canceled over the advertisement’s misstep. Yet, today, both Jenner and Pepsi Co are, in their respective fields, have mass amounts of followers on Instagram.

Part Three: The Solution and The Problem 

Looking at the New Orleans trash problem from a bird’s eye, it is clear that trash goes from “Point A” to “Point B” linearly. The garbage is left outside the home, the Metro picks it up, the waste is processed, and then the Metro drives most of it off at the River Birch landfill. It is because this system runs in a straight line that strikes, corruption and public frustration have become a product of the process. In other words, the current system relies on a single channel for trash collection and disposal. 

Social media influencers in the present day are masterminds at maximizing multiple planes of a revenue stream to reach the quantifiable and secure financial status as full-times creators. New Orleans’ can learn from this approach. In terms of the influencer, what is meant by this statement is problems arise when there is a significant impact on the bottom line. Someone like Schlater, who has all her time, career points, and revenue value in the platform base of an Instagram model, can lose it all in an instant. Matilda Djerf’s main platform is Instagram, but she is also active on TikTok. She is a founder and majority owner of the fashion label Djerf Avenue, the majority stream of her fiscal revenue. She diversifies her revenue stream by not limiting herself to the confines of one channel like Instagram. Similarly, New Orleans could benefit from diversifying its trash management approach into multiple channels. New Orleans already does this; however, they need to look into the case of New Orlean’s Avondale shipyard. 

One of the largest Shipyards in Louisiana reopened in 2022 a decade after it’s closing. New Orleans and the state of Louisiana have directed their attention to the shipyard to enable it as an economic driver. To do so, an investment of over 70 million dollars was put into the facility to make it a shipyard but also a manufacturing and processing site. J. Jefferson Keever, the Avondale Shipyards government affairs representative, said in the announcement, “It’s no longer a shipyard but a global logistics hub.” The plan to revamp the Avondale shipyard came at a bequest to have more of an economic impact as a Louisiana port, the new plan having a 20-year projection of 32 billion dollars in accumulation. Environmental clearance was approved, and docks with accessible trade zones were implemented to bolster efficiency. Mike Sherman, the attorney for the Avondale Shipyard, comments that with the new plan for the space, success will be defined differently: “We won’t measure success in how much cargo we move, but we measure success in how much value we can add to the cargo we move”.

Multi-channel approaches to adding value to a system, whether that be Shipyards of Louisiana, Influencers, or trash management networks improve the rate of success. Three cities provide real-world examples of how multi-channel waste management can relieve pressure put on linear trash collection: Copenhagen, Dresden, and Amsterdam. Dresden, Germany, has implemented a multi-channel waste management system that includes curbside collection of organic waste, a separate group of recyclable materials, and a network of public recycling points for electronics and batteries. The city has also introduced a “pay as you throw” system (PAYT), where residents are charged based on the amount of waste they generate, incentivizing them to reduce their waste. Amsterdam is another city that has implemented a successful multi-channel waste management system. The city has introduced an innovative program called Zero Waste Lab, which encourages residents to bring their waste to a central sorting facility where it is sorted, recycled, and upcycled into new products in turn for cash. This program has reduced the amount of waste sent to landfills and has also created new jobs and revenue streams for the city. Copenhagen, Denmark, is a city hailed for its sustainable and efficient waste management resources. In Copenhagen, for each disposable item, a small percentage deposit is inflicted on the consumer when purchased. To incentivize recycling and public responsibility for waste disposal, each deposit is returned when sorted into correct bins, and machines fill the city in order for the public to gain easy access. This is called the Danish Return System and is a majority reason for the lack of garbage on the city streets.

New Orleans can reduce the pressure on its current linear system, address public frustration and corruption, and create new jobs and revenue streams for the city. Like social media influencers who maximize multiple revenue streams to achieve financial success, New Orleans’ trash management can benefit from diversifying its approach and implementing a more efficient system. The Shipyard of Avondale is an example of a system in the city already using multi-channel systems and seeing the quantitative economic result. The future of tourism, the health of the public, and the labor force can and should benefit from a restructuring of New Orleans’ trash management system. 


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