Talking Trash in New York City

I promised to cover “filth” in my inaugural post and, aspiring to be a man of my word, herewith we talk trash.

It may surprise you to learn, however, that after some reflection and observation, albeit not a scientific sample of the possibilities (which are vast), I don’t think New York City is afflicted with more trash than any other American city of comparable scale and population density. Of course, there is no such place but there are a few pretty big cities to go around and each of them has its trash-ridden neighborhoods. If you look, you can find them in New York as well.

However, I currently believe (and reserve the right to believe otherwise with greater experience) there are several contributing causes of the perception that New York City s filthy and one overriding explanation.

With population density of more than 27,000 people per square miles, trash will inevitably appear on the streets. That many people simply cannot be expected to be responsible about what they do with their trash. Cigarette smokers, of which there remain plenty in The City, are not going to carry ashtrays or go out of their way to find a place to stamp out their butts. So, they end up on the street and sidewalk.

Another major culprit originates in the hundreds of Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts and newsstand/food truck/food carts that are ubiquitous in New York City. These venerable establishments produce tens of thousands of cardboard coffee cups and paper wrappers for pastries, hot dogs, hot nuts, pizza, halal and an almost infinite variety of other “snacks” that are consumed voraciously by New Yorkers on the move. As the photo below demonstrates, these items most often end up in trash bins

It may surprise you to learn, however, that after some reflection and observation, albeit not a scientific sample of the possibilities (which are vast), I don’t think New York City is afflicted with more trash than any other American city of comparable scale and population density. Of course, there is no such place but there are a few pretty big cities to go around and each of them has its trash-ridden neighborhoods. If you look, you can find them in New York as well.

However, I currently believe (reserving the right to believe otherwise with greater experience) there are several contributing causes of the perception that New York City s filthy and one overriding explanation.

With population density of more than 27,000 people per square mile, trash will inevitably appear on the streets. That many people simply cannot be expected to be responsible about what they do with their trash. Cigarette smokers, of which there remain plenty in The City, are not going to carry ashtrays or go out of their way to find a place to stamp out their butts. So, they end up on the street and sidewalk.

Another major culprit originates in the hundreds of Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts and newsstand/food truck/food carts that are ubiquitous in New York City. These venerable establishments produce tens of thousands of cardboard coffee cups and paper wrappers for pastries, hot dogs, hot nuts, pizza, halal and an almost infinite variety of other “snacks” that are consumed voraciously by New Yorkers on the move. These items most often end up in trash bins, but the volume overwhelms the bin supply and the near-constant wind takes care of the rest.Thus, you end up with this:

I conservatively, and unscientifically, estimate that in any group of 100 pedestrians, at least 10 will be drinking coffee and/or eating while walking. When they reach the subway steps, of course, many of these items end up on the street or on the steps themselves.

None of this is surprising and, at least for today, I have the overall impression that New York City is, relatively and in the circumstances, clean.

The overriding single reason people tend to think otherwise is, I suggest, that New York City is just plain old. The sidewalks and streets of Gotham were, by and large, laid down a long time ago. Same for most of the subways. This means that the remains of long-ago discarded food items have been ground into the pavement, there to remain as discolorations and, if you will, marbleizations, of the pavement. Much of the city simply looks dirty even when it’s not.

It is also at least arguable that the vast amounts of trash generated by the vast number of humans in the vastly large towers of Manhattan create a visual impression of dirtiness that overwhelms the senses even when the street itself is actually quite spotless. See the header photo for this post. And this:

My apartment building, comprised of 700 apartments produces each week an astonishing amount of trash that appears on the street behind the building in black plastic bags or simply in piles of construction materials from the renovations that are on-going. On trash pick-up day, these piles of black plastic bags will appear on some streets every few feet for many blocks.

Overall, New York City “generates” more than 14 million tons of trash a year. The details of what is done with it are summarized at http://bit.ly/2efzqPj   If trash disposal really interests you, and it should, a great 2014 video on the subject as regards New York and other places, can be seen at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y6LzB6rMDtA. The video covers the history of trash disposal in New York City and some of the latest advances in compostable recycling.

As a closing note, the history of The City shows that a large portion of it, south of Liberty Street, was built on landfill of the trash the city itself produced. If we don’t figure out better ways to deal with trash everywhere, someday we may all be living in, or on, a dumpster.

 

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s