Complaints of Missed Trash Pickups Surge as Garbage Mounts at Home
While some key employees take a break from the intense demands of COVID-19, employees at the City Department of Hygiene are moving record-breaking amounts of trash as more New Yorkers work from home and go to school.
Meanwhile, residents are complaining of missed pickups – a pattern plumbing officials say is a result of pandemic response schedules, not service cuts.
From 2020 through August, the department collected 4.2% more household, recycling, and organic waste than last year – with every borough except Manhattan driving the spike.
As THE CITY reported this spring, the garbage cans fell in numerous parts of Manhattan in March and April, a sign that many residents had fled the neighborhood. This decline continues.
The latest numbers in Manhattan show a nearly 3% decrease in garbage, recycling and organic waste collections in August – with every borough south of Harlem this year declining year over year.
But everywhere else, New Yorkers who stay at home are producing more solid waste, and plumbing workers – many of whom are recovering from COVID – have struggled to keep up with the surge.
While Manhattan saw a 6.5% decrease through August that year, trash collected in Brooklyn increased 5%, The Bronx and Queens increased 7%, and Staten Island increased 8%.
Tons of trash, recycling and organic waste collected across the city in August increased 11% from the same month last year. The July route was 9% larger than last year.
In each of the three months through August, the city collected more tons of trash and recycling than any other month since 2005.
“Unconcionable” service cuts
The sharp increase coincides with spending cuts that have drained Sanitation’s budget by $ 106 million and are helping to drive nearly 400 job cuts.
Hygiene Commissioner Kathryn Garcia, who recently resigned to investigate a run for the mayor, condemned an “indescribable” reduction in “basic sanitation” in her resignation letter.
Acting Sanitation Commissioner Edward Grayson said his department is tracking demand shifts in 59 wards and is ready to divert trucks and crews to areas in need.
“We are constantly monitoring the trend analysis here, we know where more trash is going and if we need to drive extra trucks to meet the service requirements for the district,” said Grayson.
The department canceled the separate collection of organic waste available to some city dwellers and sought to reduce the city’s annual budget by 490 employees, which began on July 1.
The incumbent commissioner admits that he does not have “much bandwidth” to move workers to rubbish heaps as collections are growing in most parts of the city.
“Do I think the department will be less nimble with fewer employees? I would say yes, ”said Grayson.
“But the department never missed a working day. We came to work every day even when a high number of people with COVID-19 were confirmed. “
He added, “It’s our job. We’re not looking for a pat on the back. “
Increase in complaints
While plumbing extends to meet increased demand with fewer bodies, residents have complained that trucks are skipping scheduled pickups.
According to THE CITY from the Mayor’s Office of Analytics, the number of plumbing complaints on the 311 service line increased by around 50% year-on-year to 5,244 in August. Most of these complaints came from Brooklyn and Queens.
Anecdotal complaints continued into this month. On September 10, Cypress Hills-based Senator Julia Salazar (D-Brooklyn) tweeted that her block hadn’t seen a pickup truck in a week, resulting in poor conditions. She suggested that her largely low-income and mostly black Latin American neighborhood be stripped of service.
It’s been a whole week now since @NYCSanitation picked up the trash or recycling on our street. It’s stacked so far that the whole block smells bad, all because our regular pick-up day was Monday (a public holiday). Do you treat everyone that way or just in East NY?
– Julia Salazar (@JuliaCarmel__) September 10, 2020
THE CITY heard a similar report from Williamsburg, Brooklyn. “The garbage collection was only missed last week. They used to miss the garbage collection before the pandemic, but it wasn’t as frequent as it is today, ”said Sunny Ng, a software engineer who lives in the neighborhood.
When garbage is not picked up, Ng said, “It gets really bad when people who show up in the neighborhood put garbage on top of the pile and leave it there. But when it opens, the garbage falls on the sidewalk. ”
Belinda Mager, spokeswoman for Sanitation, said delays in garbage collection are expected after holidays like Labor Day on September 7th.
“This will affect our garbage and recycling collections for the rest of the week,” she said. Speaking of Salazar’s tweet, she said, “The conclusion that we treat some parts of the city differently from others is just unfounded and unfounded.”
Piles of rubbish line a street in downtown Brooklyn, September 25, 2020. Hiram Alejandro Durán / THE CITY
One possible explanation for the rise in complaint calls, according to Grayson, is that the Department of Sanitation changed the timing of garbage collection as a precaution against the coronavirus.
The department started collecting garbage after midnight and early in the morning so that workers would not have as much contact with the public.
Grayson admitted that “there is a higher chance that one of the residents will miss the opportunity to sit down [waste cans] before midnight. And then, just because of the sheer timing, they didn’t delete it after our truck had already serviced that line. ”
He added: “There are isolated cases.”
Workers on the edge
More budget cuts could come if New York City stares at a billion dollar budget gap.
The union currently represents around 6,100 uniformed plumbing workers oppose further downsizing.
“The city needs sanitation workers because everyone wants to go back to normal. Business leaders want the city to get clean and whoever cleans it is the plumbing workers, ”said Harry Nespoli, president of the plumbing union, Teamsters Local 831.
He cited the toll that the coronavirus was putting on its members. Approximately 550 were infected with the virus and eight died.
“During the pandemic, we went from house to house collecting rubbish. They have never missed a day when they risked their lives. My people got sick, went home, and put their families’ lives at risk. Now they face layoffs, ”said Nespoli.
“The city needs sanitation workers because everyone wants to go back to normal.”
New Yorkers thanked these plumbing workers for picking up their trash despite scary cracks in COVID-19 cases in March and April.
Moneesha Martin, who lives and manages a five-story building in Harlem, is one of those New Yorkers who are grateful to the plumbing workers for continuing to work despite scary leaps in COVID-19 cases in March and April.
“I actually put up a sign one day to thank them because they were still coming through and picking up rubbish,” said Martin.