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In a bid to combat the rise of record-setting rat sightings, the Department of Sanitation (DSNY) is floating a proposal to curb the seemingly never-ending presence of odorous trash bags on New York’s sidewalks with a new rule that would shift trash take-out to 8pm.
“Rush hour shouldn’t be trash hour,” DSNY spokesperson Joshua Goodman told W42ST. “New Yorkers put millions of pounds of trash and recycling on the street starting at 4pm – right as the evening rush is getting underway – and then it stays out, serving as a nightclub for rats and other pests, until it’s collected. Well soon, we’re going to try to shut the club down.”
New York currently has the earliest policy compared to other cities, Goodman said, pointing out that the 4pm set-out time often leaves bags of trash on the street for nearly a full day before being removed. “New Yorkers have been told that this is just the way it is — as if looking at trash all afternoon was our birthright. Enough already,” he added.
The DSNY picks up as much as 24 million pounds of trash daily — a significant increase from pre-pandemic numbers as New Yorkers working from home produce more household waste. Despite former Mayor Bill de Blasio’s 2015 declaration that the city would stop sending residential trash to landfills by 2030, there has been little to no progress. According to a DSNY annual report, the city shipped out 3.4 million tons of household trash to landfills between July 2020 and June 2021 — up from 3.2 million tons the previous year.
In Hell’s Kitchen, the pile-up has been felt by residents and business owners alike, many of whom have been trying to evict rodent populations from their outdoor dining sheds. Mayor Eric Adams recently launched a pilot program installing large, rat-proof curb containers in Times Square, with plans to add more across Hell’s Kitchen this fall.
City Council member Erik Bottcher, who has been a vocal advocate for clean street solutions in Hell’s Kitchen, was pleased to hear of the DSNY’s proposal. Said Bottcher: “This is a smart move. That’s four fewer hours that rats will have a sidewalk buffet. Of course, we need to move to completely eliminate piles of trash on our sidewalks, but this is a step we can take right now. I’m very glad to see our city taking steps to address the sanitation crisis.”
Catie Savage, the Trash Queen and founder of the volunteer Hell’s Kitchen Litter Legion, is on the front lines of the fight against filth. “Moving trash put-out to 8pm is a great first step in mitigating our massive rat problem,” she said, adding that it was only one solution for the long-tail issue.
“It is imperative that the City Council pass mandatory curbside composting city-wide to remove all food scraps from these bags and into rodent proof compost bins,” she explained. “Mandatory composting, along with enforcement of existing composting laws for certain businesses, will have a huge impact on the rat population.” The city has recently resumed doling out penalties for businesses who don’t separate their organic waste as a means of enforcing commercial composting.
For those looking to increase residential composting practice, Savage cited an interactive DSNY map of the open bins, operating hours and regulations. For non-compostable trash, Savage advises residents to “avoid leaving them next to or inside tree pits, as this essentially brings the buffet right to the rats’ door.”
Potential approval and implementation are still up in the air for the DSNY proposal, pending a formal public commentary period. For now, the DSNY hopes to push the need for change forward. “Clean streets are essential to the City’s recovery, and between these changes and our five-borough containerization pilot, we’re lathering up to shave New York’s 5 o’clock shadow of trash bags,” said Goodman.