Sunday, September 2, 2018

City Removes Trash Cans on the UWS, Claiming it Improves Cleanliness; One Local Says It's 'Boneheaded'

Overflowing trash can at West End Avenue & 103rd Street
Originally published on August 15, 2018 in West Side Rag

By Joy Bergmann

As someone who walks her dog several times a day along West End Avenue near West 104th Street, tipster Melissa G. says she’s “very trash-can conscious.”

A few months ago, she noticed all of the baskets were overflowing with trash. Then she had another realization: There were now only two baskets per intersection instead of four – one on every corner – which she says had consistently been the case during her nine years on the block.

What happened to the baskets? Did they get removed in anticipation of some windy weather? Surely the Department of Sanitation [DSNY] would soon restore the baskets – thereby easing the overflow trash – she thought.

A neighbor who shared her concerns called 311 and was told that the baskets had been removed because people leaving Riverside Park were putting their trash in them. “You can’t make this up,” says Melissa.


Counterintuitive as it may seem, DSNY says having fewer trash baskets increases area cleanliness. “For some reason, when there’s a garbage can on a corner, it attracts litter,” DSNY Community Liaison Nick Circharo told West Side Rag. “The corner without a basket is the cleanest corner. If you take away the baskets, people will take their garbage elsewhere.”

Rust stains indicate this WEA corner used to have a wire trash basket.

DSNY spokesperson Dina Montes says that 1,131 litter baskets citywide were removed in the past year for chronic misuse, leaving about 23,250 baskets in place. In an email, she explained:
"Litter baskets are for pedestrian litter, and are placed in busy commercial and pedestrian-heavy areas, not in primarily residential areas. It’s always been DSNY’s policy that litter baskets be used solely for pedestrian litter and not household garbage or business garbage. 
Our Department’s cleaning office routinely reviews litter baskets usage and placement around the city, and will remove baskets that are in areas that do not meet the commercial criteria, or baskets that are chronically misused (i.e. illegal drop-offs, improper disposals of household trash in and around litter baskets, etc.). On the other hand, we will also add baskets to areas that have become more commercial in nature. 
[Many of the removed baskets] were in residential areas that did not fit the commercial criteria and were being misused. Removing chronically abused and misused baskets is a practice we do citywide and it has proven to be effective and beneficial in reducing drop offs and improper trash disposal."
Circharo says the basket reductions, “Are not a money-saving thing, but a cleanliness-increasing thing,” noting that DSNY crews empty baskets on West End Avenue every day, twice a day, except for Sundays when there is no pickup.

Aaron Biller, head of community group Neighborhood in the Nineties, called the DSNY move "a crude, boneheaded mistake."
In deciding it could treat West End Avenue and Riverside Drive as residential areas that need less service, Sanitation does not consider that these so-called residential streets have a fair number of commercial facilities like SRO and commercial hotels, shelters, facilities for the elderly and a major park that attract large numbers of visitors, on top of our residents, who need a place for their refuse. WEA and Riverside are also densely packed with apartment buildings, some as high as 20 stories. The geography of the community, with its long avenue blocks also makes a compelling argument for a can on all four corners.
Melissa isn’t buying the DSNY explanation either. “When the trash cans overflow, it’s vile. I want a can back on every corner,” she says. “It was one of those great New York things not to have to walk a mile with a bag of poop.”

Could this be the spark of a new poop-bag rebellion, incited when Central Park similarly removed trash cans a few years back?

Hopefully not. But for now, DSNY’s Circharo says that if residents want their trash baskets restored – no promises that they will be – they may make requests at:

This story inspired other pieces in the New York Times and Gothamist.