As New Yorkers take to the streets to their delight to see the twinkling lights of the season and festive storefronts, we are likely to encounter familiar obstacles on the sidewalk: Christmas tree sellers, slowly moving tourist crowds and abundant newspaper boxes. Another, more urgent, obstacle is shame and stain all year round on our urban dignity: mountains of garbage bags on our sidewalks.
In the days of garbage collection, New Yorkers are forced to navigate around piles of garbage bags that take up valuable space on the sidewalk. In addition to making life difficult for pedestrians, especially using mobility aids like wheelchairs and people pushing carts, garbage bags on the sidewalk also serve as a midnight buffet for rodents.
It does not have to be this way. The city’s sanitation and sustainability policy has long been stuck and it is in dire need of a common sense update – which is why I ran for city council, and won, among other things, in A plan for the rationalization of our sanitation practices.
Instead of stacking bags on the sidewalk in front of each building for collection, the municipality should allow communities to use containers or corns on the street in central locations on each block. Cities around the world, including Buenos Aires and Barcelona, have already improved the quality of life of millions of residents with such containers.
Indeed, the Department of Transportation and the Department of Sanitation last year announced a pilot project to install garbage pens on the street for commercial waste, particularly in business improvement districts. The municipality should immediately expand it to residential buildings in order to give New Yorkers relief from dangerous and unhealthy sidewalks. [Sanitation Commissioner Ed Grayson commented on this recently in Streetsblog].
Making this change sustainable in New York City will require careful piloting and fine-tuning, and DSNY will have to update some trucking and collection procedures, but the rewards for New Yorkers will be huge.
Even as we continue to make this structural change to our sanitation practices, the city needs to implement other features of my sanitation program, now.
Let’s start by raising our standards. Every year, the Office of the Mayor of Operations Issues street and sidewalk cleaning ratings, But the cleaning scores do not seem to match the conditions on the ground.
For example, the city rated as “reasonably clean” 94.1 percent of Community Council 2 streets, 88.9 percent of Community Council 4 streets, and 93.7 percent of Community Council 5 streets in the November 2020 monthly report. The areas covered by these CBs Achieved a rating of 100 percent sidewalk cleanliness in the second quarter of fiscal year 2021. Needless to say, these ratings are inconsistent with reality. A more accurate scorecard will challenge us to get better as a city.
We must also increase and improve the regular planned cleaning of our streets – by returning to sweeping the streets for two days a week, as it was before the plague. We need to sweep smaller streets that are able to properly clean our bike paths. The basket service in the Sunday corner has also been cut off, and should be restored immediately.
Let’s create “strike teams” from the Sanitation Department across the borough that will respond – in real time – to 311 calls about waste basket overflow and other non-sanitary conditions. Waiting a day to treat these conditions is not acceptable.
Of course, the most effective thing we can do as a city to deal with the sanitation crisis is to reduce the amount of waste we send to landfills. It’s time to order the separation of universal organic waste for all residents and businesses – like California did this more than a year ago. I will fund the City Council legislation to make it happen here.
Another irrational practice that has immediate consequences on city streets and catastrophic and long-term consequences on Earth is our addiction to Disposable plastic. This is one of the reasons why corner trash cans fill up in a matter of hours. We need to dramatically reduce the use of unnecessary disposable plastic in New York City, including water bottles and plastic cutlery. To help reduce our reliance on disposable water bottles, we need to conduct an experiment Reusable bottled water filling stations, as they did in 2015 in Montreal.
I hope future generations of New Yorkers will look back on our current sanitation practices with a sense of distrust, and comment on how far our city has come. I hope they are shocked to find that we threw away almost every fork we used and every bottle we drank from it, and piled up mountains of garbage on the sidewalk. We can do much better. Let’s make it happen.
Eric Butcher (@ebottcher) Is a council member elected for District 3 of the council, which includes the neighborhoods of West Village, Chelsea and Hels Kitchen. You can read his sanitation program and other policy suggestions at ErikBottcher.com.