When you look at the island of Manhattan on a map, it looks like a sliver of something, a slab you could pick up and hold in your hand. But though it looks small, it's quite a heavy slab, because it's piled extremely high with a ton of stuff.
Like, a lot of stuff: buildings (big ones, and lots of them), bagels (big ones, and lots of them), people (big ones, and lots of them). Cars. Roads. Sidewalks. And animals and furniture and water towers and toilets. So all this raises an interesting question: Just how much does all this stuff on Manhattan weigh?
Coming up with an exact number is pretty much impossible, and we’re not rocket scientists. But using some fast and loose Internet research, we came up with a ballpark number for how much all the crap we’ve dumped on this island might tip a scale. Check it out.
Let’s start with all us hefty Americans. According to the CDC, the average human weighs around 181 pounds. On an average workday, about 3.9 million people inhabit Manhattan. So at 181 pounds apiece, that works out to 705,900,000 pounds—or 352,950 tons—of people meat. And guess what? That’s about how much one (one!) Empire State Building weighs. Take a deep breath. We’re just getting started.
A ton of these people have pets. The New York City Economic Development Corporation says about 238,500 cats and dogs live in Manhattan (no word on whether they pay rent). We’ll go with low weight averages here—since a good deal of NYC pups are little Fifi wiener dogs—so we’ll say 35 pounds for dogs and 10 pounds for cats. Assuming a 50-50 split between the species, that's 22.5 PPP (pounds per pet). Do the math and you get 5,366,250 pounds, or 2,683 tons. There’s also a zoo and horses and gross pigeons and chubby rats, so let’s call this at least 3,000 tons of pure animal.
Every year 5.7 million tons of food enters New York City. We’ll say a fifth of that goes to Manhattan, so on any given day there’s at least 3,123 tons of grub sitting on the island. Throw in 120,000 tons of agua in those rooftop water towers and you get at least 123,123 tons of food and water. I already drank most of the beer so we can’t count that.
About 23 percent of Manhattan’s 1.6 million full-time residents own cars. That’s 368,000 whips. We’re using the average workday for this little exercise; of the 1.6 million or so daily commuters, about 20 percent drive, so add 322,000 more (lots of people take the subway, but that’s underground, and we’re staying above land here). Oh, and throw in about 12,100 cabs. We’ll use 3,300 pounds as our average weight (based on the aggressively average Toyota Camry).
So 702,100 cars (and we’re probably being pretty conservative) weigh in at 2,316,930,000 pounds. That’s 1,158,465 tons. Note that we're not putting that number in bold. Because we haven’t even done buses yet. The MTA has 5,777 of those babies, each weighing around 20 tons. Let’s say they’re spread evenly across the boroughs and that Manhattan has 1,155. Toss in 100 tour buses or so. That’s 25,100 tons. For the sake of sanity, we’ll stop after adding 450 35-ton dump trucks (31,500,000 pounds/15,750 tons).
Let's not forget trains. There's 6,384 subway cars in New York and we'll assume at least half are in Manhattan. At around 38 tons each we get 121,296 tons. And actual trains? 1,200 trains pass though Penn Station daily and 700 pass through Grand Central Terminal. Your average Acela train is around 565 tons. So that's 1,073,500 tons.
Add it all together and you get a conservative number of 2,394,111 tons. Whoa.
Roads and Sidewalks
Let's make this quick: 508.38 linear street miles in Manhattan. We’ll use that same distance for sidewalks. Streets average 63 feet in width, sidewalks about 15 feet. Asphalt (streets) and concrete (sidewalks) each weigh a little over two tons per cubic yard, and each street needs at least three inches of asphalt on top. Do all the math and you wind up with around 3,170,000 tons of asphalt. If we say the sidewalks are four inches thick, we get 1,006,000 tons of sidewalk. Total here: 4,176,000 tons.
Okay, this was the really tough one. I looked at the Empire State Building, which weighs 350,000 tons. I looked at the average house, which weighs 70 tons. But most of the 47,000 buildings in Manhattan are neither the Empire State Building or a family home. So I reached out to an engineer friend of mine, and she told me that the best way to make a reasonable guess is to go by floor. Here’s what she said:
"For buildings over 30 stories, use 3,000 tons per floor. Buildings under 30, use 200. That's an arbitrary choice of using 30 floors as the breaking point. but based on the spreadsheet [available here], there are 24,373 total floors in buildings over 30 floors (604 buildings), and 225,203 floors in buildings under 30 floors (39,954 buildings)."
That gets us a ridiculous total of 118,159,600 tons of buildings.
The Other Stuff
And then, of course, there’s all our stuff. Stuff we don’t even think about, like shoes and toothpaste and cigarettes and condoms. Bicycles. Refrigerators. Dental floss. iPhones alone would weigh about 300 tons. It’s absurd and pretty much immeasurable.
But if every building was empty and no one had any possessions besides cars and pets and food? Manhattan would still weigh at least…wait for it…125,208,467 tons. That’s 250,416,934,000 pounds. The more you know, right?
Christopher Abell is a contributor at Supercompressor.
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