Garbage Piles Up!

Trash pile up on Lorimer Street and Metropolitan Avenue Photo credit: Lisa Summa

“During the 20 years I have lived on the Northside there’s never been so much garbage in the streets of my neighborhood, and this contributes to health problems including an exploding rat population. Other world class cities in Europe seem to have this problem under better control. From my perspective the main issues are erratic collection, inadequate corner trash receptacles, and poor enforcement,” said Ed Brittenham, Northside Williamsburg resident.

In August, 311 reported that Mayor Adams has received 36% more 311 complaints about garbage on streets and sidewalks in the first six months of 2022 than his predecessor did in the first six months of 2021.  Rodent complaints rose 17% via the same comparison.  However, complaints about missed trash collection decreased by 18% by comparison.

Why is this happening?  What can be done? Let’s start with why.

The [NYC Department of Sanitation] DSNY suffered major budget cuts during the pandemic. “With a commitment from Mayor Adams and Commissioner Tisch to clean up the city, this year’s budget, which took effect July 1, included unprecedented funding for cleaning, including $7.5 million for precision cleaning initiatives,” said Belinda Mager, DSNY dir. of communications.

The NYC Council also had a hand in increasing the sanitation budget.  In March, Mayor Adam’s initial proposal cut $48M from the DSNY. The NYC Council advocated for more and the Mayor made changes. “Funding the restoration of sanitation services is vitally important to New York City’s recovery. We appreciate Mayor Adams’ commitment to add some sanitation funding that the Council championed in its Preliminary Budget Response as a first step. At the same time, there remains greater budget investments and restorations needed to deliver the cleaner and healthier communities that New Yorkers deserve. The Council will continue to fight for the adequate level of sanitation services for every neighborhood in our city,” said NYC Council Member Sandy Nurse, sanitation committee chair in April.

Image credit; NYC Department of Sanitation

Streetcleaners were on a half schedule and many times had to go around parked cars. Full-schedule alternate side parking (ASP) returned on July 5 to address street trash conditions. “The dirty little secret here is when ASP went to one day a week instead of two in practice it was like having no cleaning in lots of blocks in this city. That’s not for a lack of trying or care from the Sanitation Department. [It was because] too many people saw a once in a while ASP ticket as the cost of doing business,” said NYC Department of Sanitation Commissioner Jessica S. Tisch.

However, sanitation complaints were still on the rise in July and August.


On August 17, WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show interviewed District 33 NYC Council Member Lincoln Restler.  He stated, “311 released data this morning that I think there’s a 36% increase in garbage complaints year-over-year that we’re experiencing across New York City. When we came into office, immediately, we released a survey to constituents of how we can try to improve sanitation conditions in our neighborhood. We got back lots of great feedback and released our District 33 cleanup plan that has a number of different components but largely is focused on neighborhood cleanups.”    

The DSNY, local officials, and community members are offering answers to “what can be done?”

The top three trash concerns revealed by NYCC District 33’s survey are: dirty streets and sidewalks (29.2%), rats (16.8%), and overflowing litter baskets (15.2%).  Their community clean up plan will look to address rat conditions through composting for all, purchase new litter baskets (his office funded 25 new rat-proof litter baskets around his district on August 1 and promised more), organized community clean ups (they hold one every other week in a different neighborhood, the next one should happen the first week of September).  To see the full plan items, go to: https://www.lincolnrestler.nyc/sanitation-plan

NYCC District 33’s community survey on garbage concerns.

Local community members who have been increasingly fed up with the growing garbage problem have organized their own clean ups or have persistently advocated.

Lisa Summa had noticed that erratic garbage pickup along Metropolitan Avenue and Lorimer Street was a concern.  Then when the MTA started construction for the L Train’s Lorimer stop things worsened into a hazard.  “Residents of Lorimer Street affected by MTA construction were advised to leave garbage [on the corner of Metropolitan Avenue and Lorimer Street).  From the weekend of July 30/31 or before this continued to accumulate,” said Lisa Summa.  She stated she and a neighbor met with NYS Assembly Member Emily Gallagher on August 1 or 2, Gallagher’s chief of staff created an email chain with the MTA and DSNY.  “By Wednesday, the 3rd it was beyond unsanitary.”  She reached out to Gallagher, NYC Council Member Jennifer Gutierrez’s office, GREENLINE, Brooklyn Community Board 1, and 311. “By Thursday, 8/4 it was gone and they seem to be picking it up regularly,” said Summa in an email dated August 20.  She added, “Of course, there’s still tons of garbage everywhere. I’ve spoken to several community members and everyone is concerned with the increased rat sightings and the garbage everywhere.”

On August 1, NYC Council Member Jennifer Gutiérrez announced that Trash Force in District 34 had launched.  “The Trash Force is a community-powered task force working to clean up our streets through education, community clean-ups, and coordination with DSNY to identify problem areas that need to be addressed,” her newsletter informed.   It is suggested that you Report a 311 complaint to their office: http://bit.ly/TrashForce311 and/or join the Trash Force Volunteers: http://bit.ly/TrashForceVols.

Allyson Stone (Stoneshine Ventures) and Lauren Adler (CalendarKiddo) attending April 22 clean up on southside Williamsburg Photo credit: Allyson Stone

Allyson Stone lives on the Southside.  She helped to organize a community clean up in April 2022 as the loose trash on and around her block wasn’t going to pick up itself. Her business, Stoneshine Ventures partnered with North Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, Domino Dental, and Calendar Kiddo.  Domino Park supplied the supplies.  Fun was woven into the event as there were play activities for the kids, pastries and coffee, a warmup workout, and post clean up beer to imbibe.

“The job of keeping the city clean is a shared job. We can’t do it alone. We rely on residents and businesses to do their part in help keeping our city clean. Everyone has a legal and moral responsibility to put trash in its proper place,” said Mager

The DSNY website: https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/dsny/site/contact/get-involved offers many ways the community can help alleviate the garbage problem in their communities. For instance, “Adopt a Basket” invites businesses and individuals to lend a hand in preventing community trash basket overflow.  DSNY provides a regular supply of free plastic liners, a collection schedule, work gloves, a dust bin and broom.  They suggest emptying the basket when it’s three-quarters full, remove the used plastic liners, tie them, leave them next to the basket, and insert a new liner. To request more liners call 311.  Community members can also help in a non-hands-on way.  If they see a broken bin or the need for a public litter basket to be placed on a street corner of a major commercial street or near a major transportation hub they can make that request via 311.

Many community members have noticed a rise in illegal dumping on their streets.  Calling 311 also comes into play to report excessive litter or illegal dumping.  The DSNY recently posted on Twitter how they caught one illegal dumper in Williamsburg:

When asked if there are any new developments for better trash collecting and containment, the DSNY responded, “We are looking at solutions. For one, our current set-out time of 4 p.m. is the earliest of any major city in the United States. We are strongly considering moving trash set-out times to 8 p.m. (residents using a container with a sealed lid could put trash out at 6 p.m., and businesses using a container with a sealed lid could put trash out one hour before closing time), to give commuters a more pleasant evening commute from the office and to leave rats with fewer opportunities to break into black bags and feast. We have not yet begun the formal process to change this rule. When we do, we look forward to hearing public input from residents and business owners on this topic,” said Mager.  In April DSNY began a Clean Curbs pilot program, “which “house[s]” trash in sealed containers as it awaits pickup.

Author: Lori Ann Doyon

Managing editor, head writer, and lead photographer of Greenline | North Brooklyn News since October 2014. Resident of Williamsburg, Brooklyn since 1990.

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