With the city’s bumpy return to life in the third year of the pandemic, comes the resurgence of street trash cans with piles of garbage spilling out — and city leaders are pushing the Adams administration to address the issue.
“The second things started to turn around, we were back to overflowing garbage cans,” said Andrew Fine, the Vice President of the East 86th Street Association on the Upper East Side.
Council Member Erik Bottcher and other elected officials in Manhattan recently sent a letter to the city calling for the restoration of slashed funding to the Department of Sanitation so that street cans can be picked up more frequently, street sweeping returned to twice-a-week in residential neighborhoods, and a faster rollout of the composting program.
Bottcher, who represents a tourist-heavy district including Chelsea, Times Square, and Hell’s Kitchen, said he hears many constituents complaining about streets filled with garbage especially after former Mayor Bill de Blasio cut more than $106 million in funding to sanitation amid the pandemic’s financial blow to city coffers.
“We get a lot of foot traffic both from tourists, to office workers, to New Yorkers from elsewhere in the city – particularly on the weekends with tourists and visitors from elsewhere in the city," Bottcher said. “And when people walk around, they put trash in the corner baskets. And what we've seen is that the number of pickups aren't frequent enough to keep up with the amount of trash that's being put in those baskets.”
“People get really bothered by overflowing baskets,” Bottcher added. “There's a certain amount of understanding that sometimes they're just going to overflow – that's life, things happen. But when it's chronic, and when it's a daily occurrence, that's not acceptable to people.”
According to Bottcher, before the pandemic, Manhattan was served by an average of 736 Sanitation trucks. In 2020, that was cut to 272 trucks — and service is currently still lower than normal, with 440 trucks working in the borough.
A sanitation department spokesperson said the street cans are cleaned and districts seeing heavier volume can lobby their council members to pay for additional pickups with their discretionary budget.
“All litter baskets across the city are serviced regularly — some even multiple times per day — and we are grateful to Council Members who allocate discretionary funds for additional pickup,” said spokesperson Vincent Gragnani in an email statement. “The Department of Sanitation is proud of our work removing 12,000 tons of trash and recycling every day to keep our city safe and clean, including during the worst days of the pandemic."
Bottcher said the discretionary funds each Council member receives are nowhere close to the millions of dollars he’s asking the city to return to the sanitation budget. Bottcher is also pushing the city to resume twice-weekly residential street sweepings, and to fast-track the return of the compost program that was suspended by the pandemic.
“People are putting their food scraps in the trash that they put out on the sidewalk, the landfill-bound trash. And that's one of the things that's contributing to the rat problem, because when you put the trash out on the sidewalk for several hours on trash collection night, oftentimes for a whole night, that's like putting a buffet out for the rodents,” Bottcher said.
Having the sealed compost bins available across the whole city will eliminate much of the rats’ food source, he said.
“Once snow season wraps up, we plan to continue to expand our curbside organics collection to new Community Board districts, based on signup data from interested residents,” Gragnani of the sanitation department said.
Fine, the Upper East Side resident, said his organization has successfully lobbied to add additional street cans in the middle of the long stretches of the East 86th Street commercial corridor.
“By giving people the option to put garbage somewhere, we're actually seeing a really nice reduction in the amount of garbage that is just ending up on the street,” Fine said.
“Cleaner streets beget cleaner streets,” Fine added. “When somebody sees a clean street, they're more reluctant to litter than if the place is a pigsty. So I feel like the more effort we put into it, the more the return is.”