NYC's Infamous Trash Mountains Could Soon Be a Thing of the Past

There's a new push to banish piles of garbage from city sidewalks.

Pile of garbage bags in NYC
Nick Starichenko/Shutterstock
Nick Starichenko/Shutterstock

New York City may be famous for its vibrant nightlife and cultural scene, but the city also has a less-glamorous reputation as a haven for garbage. While mountains of trash bags have long been an unfortunate symbol of NYC, a push by politicians and Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) could finally see them kicked to the curb. 

Newly elected City Council Member Erik Bottcher recently appeared on Pix11 News, where he discussed city efforts to have trash containerized and removed from sidewalks. Bottcher, who represents the West Village, Chelsea, and Hell's Kitchen, conducted the interview in front of a pile of garbage bags more than six feet high. 

"New Yorkers are forced to walk around mountains of trash on the sidewalk," he said. "We have to look into new ways for putting [garbage] out for collection, and that can include containerizing it in the street bed for pickup on trash collection day." 

The Department of Sanitation first announced its "Clean Curbs" initiative back in March 2020, just days before the COVID-19 pandemic would overtake the city. At the time, it shared a plan to enlist BIDs to install large-scale trash receptacles for commercial waste in the streets, much like outdoor dining structures have taken over former parking spaces. This approach—already popular in cities like Barcelona—would get piles of trash bags off the sidewalks and locked away from rats and other pests that thrive on NYC's all-you-can-eat garbage buffets.

Mockup of potential garbage bins
Image courtesy of Marvel Architects

In the nearly two years since that announcement, however, the program has yet to begin, leading to criticism of the department from some corners of the city.

Reached for comment by Thrillist, DSNY Press Secretary Vincent Gragnani said the agency recently hired a Project Manager for Public Space Initiatives who will lead the implementation of Clean Curbs programs this year. This will include a pilot program "on a small scale" for common waste containers for residential buildings, with a procurement process to begin next month.

Gragnani said the DSNY is having "productive conversations" with BIDs about Clean Curbs but did not provide a timeline for implementation. He also said the agency finalized rules in December requiring all new buildings with 150 units or more to submit a waste management plan with the city. He called the DSNY's upcoming efforts "potentially the first in a series of pilots that will inform our future planning."

According to the DSNY, sanitation workers collect more than 12,000 tons of garbage and recycling every day in New York. That's 26 million pounds total, or more than three pounds per person, per day. Hopefully soon, more of that garbage will be out of sight and NYC can shake its unfortunate reputation as one of the world's dirtiest cities.

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Chris Mench is an editor focusing on NYC News at Thrillist. You can follow him on Twitter for more of his work.