By Scott Etkin
After the balloons and the marching bands have made their way down Central Park West on Thanksgiving Day, the confetti, wrappers, and other litter from thousands of spectators will be left behind on the avenue. But not for long.
As they do every year, the Department of Sanitation (DSNY) will deploy a team – in total, 147 sanitation workers and 23 officers in 29 collection trucks – that will have the avenue looking like nothing happened in just a few hours.
Of course, this isn’t the only time that DSNY saves the Upper West Side from being overcome by litter after an influx of visitors. On the Sunday of the NYC Marathon, tens of thousands of runners and spectators pass through the Upper West Side following the finish line at 67th Street. This year, DSNY deployed nearly 350 sanitation workers across the city, including near the marathon finish, to assist with picking up about 200,000 pounds of refuse, according to a DSNY representative.
The volume of trash that this city of 8 million people produces is beyond my scale of comprehension. To me, it’s basically a miracle that navigating mountains of garbage is not part of my daily routine.
Yes, trash bins on the corners routinely overflow. Yes, rats scurry in front of me when I walk home at night. But couldn’t things be so much worse?
Over the past year, we’ve seen some interesting changes in how the city handles trash: restaurants are now required to put their trash in containers, not loose bags; residential bagged trash has to be set out in the street after 8pm; smart compost bins are now available in nearly all parts of the city. Will these changes make a significant improvement? It’s probably too early to tell.
When I’ve traveled internationally, I couldn’t help but notice how much less litter there is on the street. This has made me reconsider what’s acceptable. Normally, I feel no social pressure against getting a disposable cup from a coffee shop that I know I will “throw away” when I finish drinking it in ten minutes. But shouldn’t I think twice about where that cup will end up, and how long will it take to decompose?
Unfortunately, “away” doesn’t really exist. The trash goes somewhere – picked up and hauled away by a DSNY worker who woke up very, very early.
Normally, trash is “out of sight, out of mind” – but not this Thanksgiving. Thank you, DSNY.
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