New Issue Brief: Taking the Trash Off the Streets in New York City
The Big Apple needs 21st-century waste-management solutions
New York City, NY – No city is quite like New York, and while that’s usually a good thing, the city’s trash situation is one of its more unpleasant idiosyncrasies. In a new Manhattan Institute issue brief, adjunct fellow and New York University associate professor Arpit Gupta delves into the city's history of waste management, responds to the recently published McKinsey report on trash containerization in New York, and identifies innovative opportunities for cleaning city streets.
Gupta details the various methods New York has employed—from uniformed street sweepers in the 1890’s to recycling in the 1980’s to hiring a rat czar in 2023—to keep its streets clean, with varying degrees of success. While the current system of leaving trash bags out on the streets for pickup has certain economic advantages, its evident pitfalls (unpleasant odors, rats, trip hazards, to name just a few) urgently call for change.
In 2020, the city launched the Clean Curbs program, aiming to containerize trash and reduce the mountains of sidewalk waste. Gupta analyzes the initial setbacks and criticism this program faced, highlights its promise, and proposes strategies to realize its full potential, including:
- Shared street containers and mechanized pickups: These would enhance sanitation and alleviate strenuous sanitation jobs. Implementing these will likely require revisiting work rules and collective bargaining agreements, as well as exploring a residential parking permit system to compensate local car-owners for reduced parking spaces.
- Leverage procurement to produce innovation: The procurement process should generate and facilitate innovative solutions, such as containers built with secure rat bait stations and sensors to measure trash levels.
- Underground and pneumatic systems for trash collection: Inspired by successful implementations in other global cities, as well as in limited parts of NYC, this innovative approach could also promote clearer subterranean mapping and definition of underground property rights.
- Community involvement and technological advancements: Mobile apps and resident feedback can help prioritize areas for service and calibrate pickup frequencies.