Top of The Heap: Trash Day in NYC

Top of The Heap: Trash Day in NYC

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Jennifer Hunter
Oct 14, 2014
(Image credit: Shuterstock)

When 1.6 million people cram themselves onto a tiny island like Manhattan, things are bound to get intimate. Unlike residents of other, roomier cities, New Yorkers are, simply by circumstance, privy to each others' business like nowhere else, and never is that more evident than on trash day.

Perhaps you remember my nightly walking habit? Those evening strolls give me a front row seat to the sidewalks of my city and most of what I see is...trash. Bags and bags of trash, piled as high as I am tall (and I'm tall).

Residential buildings collect the trash and, because there's no room for cans or dumpsters on the crowded streets, they pile the accumulation on the sidewalk to wait for pickup.

It's both disgusting and fascinating. Disgusting because mountains of trash don't smell like a bed of roses (just imagine the wafting scent of hot garbage during the summer months) and are occupying room on the sidewalk; fascinating because these piles are an honest look at what my neighbors are buying and eating and throwing away. If a house tour is a polished look at what people want you to know about them, the trash pile (while anonymous) is a candid portrayal of how people actually live.

The system may not be ideal, but it does increase our trash consciousness. We're forced to face the piles on the street once a week, a tough-but-necessary reminder of the sheer amount of waste that we collectively generate.

I'm certainly more aware of my own trash habits when faced with this heap. I recycle what I can, of course, but organic food waste (which I grew up throwing into a compost pile) has nowhere to go in my current building. While it's not available to me, some parts of New York City — Staten Island and sections of Brooklyn and Queens — have started collecting the roughly 35% of organic material that would otherwise go into a landfill. This material is taken upstate to a facility that makes it into compost for local farms.

Speaking of landfills, New York trash (about 85% of it) is trucked to landfills in other states like New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Virginia at an annual cost of about $300 million per year.

And there's one more interesting perk to having the trash so exposed — there seems to be quite a lively free furniture trade going on. Because it's so hard to transport bulky items, discarded furniture that might otherwise be dropped off at Goodwill or sold often gets dumped at the curb. This is good news for my college kid neighbors at FIT, as I've seen plenty of students score perfectly functional used furniture on trash day which, I'm sure, they were grateful to have.

Tell us, is your trash day an orderly exercise or more of a free-for-all?

Info via New York Times.

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