nw3 to nyc

Observations on moving my family across the Atlantic

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The $1.4 billion garbage bill

I’ve often wondered where all the rubbish goes in New York. On Saturday mornings, the streets around here are lined with rubbish bags and waste waiting to be picked up. The streets smell really bad until the ‘garbage’ trucks turn up. I usually go for my run then and I have to breathe through my mouth the whole way to avoid the smell. Friday night detritus is everywhere, pizza boxes galore along with some less salubrious leftovers.

To be fair to the DSNY (the New York City Department of Sanitation) they seem to take pretty much anything. People leave all sorts of crap out and it’s gone within hours. Each week the Department picks up 50,000 tonnes of curbside rubbish. I did try to find out where it all goes, but it was a long and complex explanation, suffice to say Manhattan is an island so it trundles off by boat from Marine Waste Transfer Stations. Where it goes from there, who knows!

I did find out that there are 6,000 uniformed workers and a vast array of vehicles:

  • 2,230 collection trucks
  • 450 mechanical street sweepers
  • 275 specialized collection trucks
  • 365 salt/sand spreaders
  • 298 front end loaders, and
  • 2,360 various other support vehicles

The New York Times did a great article yesterday, providing an insight into the life of a garbage truck worker and the training they have to go through. And I was stunned to see the cost of it: $1.4 billion. Wow. It’s well worth a read.

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Ready, willing and able

All around the streets of our bit of New York I have noticed men in bright blue trousers and jackets emblazoned with the phrase ‘ready, willing and able’. There is a reference to the Doe Fund, which I assumed was the Department of Environment. Turns out it’s actually a charity that helps the homeless who have problems with drugs and alcohol get back on their feet through a 9-12 month programme with the Fund. The guys (I have yet to see a woman) in blue are picking up rubbish (that would be trash here) from the pavement (sidewalk) and emptying bins (trashcans). In one year they pick up 9,000 tonnes (tons) in the city.  I can’t work out if they are under contract to the Dept of Sanitation who deal with residential rubbish, or if the city does this as well. As well as working, the guys in blue also get a lot of support to help with addiction and get themselves back on their feet and back into the workplace. It’s impressive. At the other extreme I have seen some people carrying, usually on a knackered old buggy (stroller), massive plastic sacks of empty plastic bottles and drink cans. They are getting to the bins before the guys in blue and picking out the bottles and cans from the general rubbish (trash) and then taking them to machines dotted around the place to make a few cents on each one. I am pretty sure this doesn’t exist in the UK. It seems very old fashioned to make money on old bottles and years ago you could get money back on returned bottles, but that wasn’t necessarily about recycling. I find it deeply depressing that in this city of wealth and the land of opportunity, people are driven to do this.