Mayor Eric Adams pledged to move forward with a long-stalled effort to move the heaps of trash blocking the city’s sidewalks into secure, rat-proof waste bins – starting with a pair of receptacles in the heart of Times Square.

At a celebratory press conference, officials praised the new containers – which will be overseen by the Times Square Alliance – as the future of waste management, while promising to partner with business groups to eventually bring the bins to all five boroughs.

“It seems like a simple thing,” Adams said. “But it makes a huge difference in the quality of life and the experience that visitors and residents have when they walk down the streets.”

For proponents of clearing trash from pedestrian walkways, the press conference struck a familiar, if underwhelming tone.

“This is the city’s plan: you all have to come to Times Square and drop your stuff here,” joked Christine Berthlet, a pedestrian activist who has urged the city to clear trash from sidewalks. “We have two containers for eight million people.”

We have two containers for eight million people.
Pedestrian activist Christine Berthlet

Still, officials said the two containers underscored a renewed commitment to waste management. They are the first tangible progress made under the city’s Clean Curbs pilot program, which launched more than two years ago with the goal of better managing the 24 million pounds of waste generated by residents and businesses each day.

Since then, the program has largely languished. The centerpiece proposal would have forced new, large-scale residential buildings to use containers for their waste, rather than leaving it by the curb. The effort was quietly abandoned following public backlash, according to sanitation spokesperson Joshua Goodman.

A separate piece of the Clean Curb program, which would have provided commercial buildings with containers to store their trash until it could be hauled away by a private carter, has also floundered. To date, no building has expressed interest in the voluntary project, Goodman said.

In the meantime, complaints of trash have skyrocketed, alongside sightings of those who benefit from it the most. In 2021, there were 23,000 rat complaints, a more than 37% increase from 2019, according to publicly available 311 data.

Jessica Tisch, the newly-appointed sanitation commissioner, said she was hopeful that the sealed containers would serve as an alternative to the “free, all-you-can-eat buffet for rats.”

She added that the city would test what worked in Times Square as they scaled up the program in other boroughs. The city does not currently have a timeline for when the additional containers will be rolled out in business improvement districts. The effort is estimated to cost $1.3 million.

Despite the lack of specifics, City Councilmember Eric Botcher said he was hopeful the new bins would mark a turning point in trash collection, invoking similar struggles of past eras to wipe graffiti from trains or install the city’s first bike lanes.

“We’re going to look back decades from now as the beginning of the time when we changed our approach to sanitation and got the mountains of trash bags off the sidewalk,” he said.

This story has been updated to correct the amount of pounds of trash generated by New Yorkers each day.