Taking the Trash Off New York City's Streets

Arpit Gupta

By Arpit Gupta

New York City is legendary for its hustle, glamor, and grandeur. But if you've walked its streets on a warm summer evening, you might be familiar with another, less flattering element of its character – a veritable mountain scape of trash bags. Mountains of trash bags lining the city's sidewalks have become an unwelcome, unsightly, and smelly signature of the city that never sleeps. This problem, examined in new Manhattan Institute report, might soon be blown away through an ingenious combination of technology and urban planning.

NYC's current trash troubles date back to the late 1980s, when the city banned building-incinerated trash and shifted to leaving bagged trash on the sidewalks. In an attempt to mitigate this problem, the Clean Curbs program was introduced in 2020 to contain the trash within covered, rodent-proof containers. The result, while an improvement, was less than perfect due to the containers' mechanical issues and capacity limitations.

Containerization and mechanical trash pickup can and should be scaled up to manage the bulk of the city’s trash problem. Currently utilized for only 11% of the city's waste, this method significantly reduces the physical labor required from sanitation workers, and allows for more frequent and efficient pickups, a move that can prevent overflowing bins and lower the city's costs related to worker health and compensation. It would effectively end the city’s reliance on trash bags on the street.

Read the full Real Clear Policy article.

Arpit Gupta is Associate Professor of Finance.