Cutting downtown’s trash load


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A new report details strategies for reducing the volume of residential waste on Lower Manhattan streets


Photos



  • A staff member at 50 West Street uses a mechanical baler, which packs cardboard into compact bundles that occupy less curbside space. Photo: Michael Garofalo




  • Piles of residential trash awaiting collection are a top quality-of-life concern for downtown residents. Photo: Daniel X. O’Neil, via flickr




It’s a ubiquitous, but most unwelcome feature of the downtown streetscape. Alongside Lower Manhattan’s iconic Belgian block pavers, public art and centuries-spanning mix of architectural styles ... is the sidewalk-clogging mountain of garbage.

As Lower Manhattan’s population has nearly tripled over the last 20 years, rising from roughly 23,000 pre-9/11 residents to over 62,000 today, piles of trash impeding pedestrians on the city’s oldest, narrowest streets have become an ever more common sight.

“More people living here means more garbage out on the streets, and it’s become an increasing quality-of-life concern,” said Jessica Lappin, the president of Downtown Alliance.

A new guide prepared by Downtown Alliance seeks to educate residents, building owners and property managers about best practices and free city resources that can reduce the number of trash bags put out on Lower Manhattan sidewalks each night.

The guide encourages residential buildings to enroll in the Department of Sanitation’s three voluntary waste diversion programs for compostable organics, electronic waste and textiles. Because DSNY collects these materials separately from trash and recycling, enrolling in these programs helps reduce the amount of waste put out at the curb and also has environmental benefits. The services are free, but Downtown Alliance found that less than 20 percent of residential buildings are currently participate in one of DSNY’s diversion programs.

The report cites mechanical balers as a relatively inexpensive toll that can make a significant impact in reducing curbside clutter. These machines, which have a small footprint and can be purchased for as little as $7,500, quickly pack cardboard, plastic and metal into compact bales of uniform size. A volume of waste that would take up 130 square feet of sidewalk space if bagged or bundled by hand takes up just 16 square feet if processed by a baler.

Real-time collection alerts

Downtown Alliance highlighted 50 West Street, a 186-unit residential building that opened two years ago, as a model of thoughtful waste planning. Residents use dedicated waste bins for textiles, organics and electronics, and the building is also equipped with a baler.

“It’s just a matter of going out of our way to take advantage of every resource the Department of Sanitation provides and work with residents on the education piece so that it’s as effective as possible,” said Seth Coston, the building’s director of condominium operations.

The volume of residential waste produced in Lower Manhattan each day is projected to grow as downtown’s residential building boom continues. Over 1,300 new residential units opened last year, and another 2,900 units in 19 buildings are currently in development.

Downtown Alliance has reached out to the developers of new residential projects to encourage them to participate in DSNY’s diversion services and allocate space for balers, compacters and other infrastructure. The residential tower under development at 45 Broad Street, for example, will feature a cardboard baler, an electronic waste bin and a refrigerated trash room to reduce the smell from food scraps and other organics as they await pickup.

“It’s easier if you’re building new and thinking about it proactively than to retrofit some of the buildings that are older,” Lappin said.

The report also recommends policy changes to DSNY, including shortening collection windows to reduce the amount of time trash spends on sidewalks before it is collected. Currently, residential trash can be set at the curb on 4 p.m. the day before pickup.

Downtown Alliance also suggests DSNY implement real-time collection alerts to automatically notify building staff when trucks are near. Such a system would allow trash to be set out immediately before pickup, further shortening the window of time during which trash sits on the sidewalk.





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