Trash, Rats and Parking: What to Do?

Good morning. Trash is one of New York City’s persistent problems. We’ll get several perspectives on a plan to change the way the city handles its trash.

Those giant piles of awful-smelling trash bags on sidewalks in New York City may be on their way out. City sanitation officials released a report on Wednesday that said that trash containerization — putting garbage in containers that can be emptied when trash trucks come around — would be possible on the vast majority of city streets.

Cities like Barcelona and Buenos Aires have embraced the idea. But containers take up space. The report said that to put containers throughout the city would mean eliminating 150,000 parking spaces — up to 25 percent of the parking on some blocks.

I was curious about other cities and how they handle their trash. Tampa, Fla., ranked first in “general garbage disposal satisfaction,” according to the website, which tracked cleanliness in 50 cities in this country. Larry Washington — the director of Tampa’s Department of Solid Waste and Environmental Management, who answered my questions by email — declined, politely, to compare the two cities when I asked what Tampa does that New York does not and why satisfaction in Tampa is higher than in New York.

Containerization appears to be the big change that Mayor Adams is calling for here in New York. How containerized is your pickup operation?

Outside of some of our downtown areas, all services provided by the city of Tampa are containerized or bundled. Downtown areas are serviced four times a day and seven days a week.

Does Tampa use the automatic side-loading trucks that are being considered here? Do we really need them?

Automatic side-loading trucks have suited both our department and residential needs. Side-loading vehicles limit the amount of time our drivers need to get out of their trucks, which is the biggest safety risk in the industry. In addition, automatic side-loading trucks have significantly increased efficiency as well.

Mayor Adams wants to double trash collection to six times a week, from three, on some residential blocks here. How often do you pick up the trash in Tampa?

All city of Tampa residents receive garbage collections twice a week, recycling service once a week, and yard waste service once a week.

I imagine that you’ve been to New York. How dirty does it seem here, and how much do you think changes in trash pickups change that?

Unfortunately, we cannot speak on the level of cleanliness of New York City. It is likely that increasing trash pickups will help to reduce litter, but addressing litter abatement is usually a multipronged challenge, requiring a multipronged solution. Educating the public is key.

Mayor Adams has tied trash collection to our rat problem. How much of a problem for you are rats, if any?

The City of Tampa does not have a rat issue.

An expert’s perspective

I also spoke with Benjamin Miller, the author of “Fat of the Land: Garbage in New York, the Last 200 Years” (published in 2000), who was the New York City Sanitation Department’s director of policy planning from 1989 to 1992.

Will containerization make a difference?

The reason we have so many rats is we have so many bags on the street. Everyone knows the horrors of the bags that we have and the connection between rats and bags. Containers are the single most effective way to eliminate that problem and improve our streetscape. It’s a no-brainer.

In terms of handling things in containers with some degree of automation, we’re 100 years behind the times, using manual labor to lift things onto trucks idling in traffic, not to mention the hazards of having human beings doing it.

Have you been in Lower Manhattan, where before 9/11 it was all office buildings? Now a lot of those buildings are residential. You see bags of garbage way over anyone’s head, and that’s because they are picked up three times a week. The way it works, there’s recycling collection on one of those three days, but for the recycling, they send two trucks, one for metal, glass and plastic and the other for paper and cardboard.

If they sent the same five trucks on five different days, the buildings wouldn’t have to store the recyclables. They would be so delighted not to have to pack those things up to the ceiling in their basement storage rooms until it’s time to put them on the curb. The building staffs are going to welcome six-day collection. That is going to be happily received, and it will be cost-effective.

A perspective on the past

I asked Louise Mirrer, the president of the New-York Historical Society, to take a longer view of the city’s trash problems.

Have we put up with trash on the streets for so long that we’re inured to it?

New York City has a long history of carelessness around trash. I can remember my grandmother telling me about walking by somebody’s house and somebody was peeling a potato and the peels were just dropping on the ground. There definitely was a culture that tolerated garbage, just tolerated it, didn’t understand that’s why disease is spread. I think that is inured. There is some residual expectation that New York City will have a lot of garbage around.

My husband, who’s a sociologist, brings 50 U.C.L.A. students to New York every summer for a course on urban sociology, and almost invariably the first thing they see is plastic garbage bags, and they’re in shock. He has been doing this for 20 years. Year after year, it’s the same thing. The students arrive, they look around, they see those black plastic garbage bags, and they’re incredulous. With fresh eyes, people are shocked that we would keep garbage on the street like that.

And you? Are you shocked?

Shocked, no, because I’ve lived in New York and I’m used to it.

But I am very, very glad when I hear that this issue is being addressed. Very glad. It should have been addressed long ago.

The politics of the present

I asked Emma G. Fitzsimmons, our City Hall bureau chief, whether the changes called for in the report can become reality.

One of the big questions is: Can Mayor Eric Adams pull this off? There’s certain to be pushback about the elimination of that many parking spaces, so the question becomes: Can the mayor take the heat? Or when containers show up on a block, are people going to say they prefer parking or cleaner streets?

The mayor is comfortable with criticism, and he seems very determined to get trash off the streets. And he’s talked about killing rats so much. If he wants to follow through, if he wants to be able to show a marked decline in the rat population when he’s running for election in 2025, this would be a big part of that.

A lot of what we’re talking about here is anecdotal: Are people noticing rats? Are people frustrated with piles of garbage on their street? If they see fewer rats and fewer piles of garbage, they might look favorably on the mayor.


It’s another day of scattered showers, persisting through the evening, near the high 50s. At night, temps will drop to around the high 40s.


In effect until May 18 (Solemnity of the Ascension).

The latest New York news

Living in the city

Chokehold death is ruled a homicide: The death of Jordan Neely, a 30-year-old homeless man who was placed in a chokehold in a subway car by another rider, was ruled a homicide by the medical examiner.

Half a year with street counselors: Over the course of seven months, a reporter and photographer shadowed street counselors who dispense free sneakers, monthly injections and gentle encouragement to some of the city’s most vulnerable and volatile residents.

Hotel into housing: An airport hotel in Queens is set to be turned into an affordable housing development with more than 300 units.

More local news

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Delayed state budget is approved: New York State lawmakers approved a $229 billion state budget that contains a handful of contentious policy changes on issues like bail, minimum wage and a ban on gas stoves and furnaces in new construction.



Dear Diary:

One evening last spring, my husband and I were strolling in the Village after having dinner out. I was about five months pregnant at the time.

As we walked, we passed two women sitting on folding chairs outside a psychic’s storefront with a table of cards and candles between them.

“August,” one of them said, pointing at my belly.

We continued walking.

“A boy, right?” the other shouted.

I turned around and nodded exuberantly.

“Well, you would know!” I shouted back.

— Emily Toder

Illustrated by Agnes Lee. Send submissions here and read more Metropolitan Diary here.

Glad we could get together here. See you tomorrow. — J.B.

P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword and Spelling Bee. You can find all our puzzles here.

Melissa Guerrero and Ed Shanahan contributed to New York Today. You can reach the team at [email protected].

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