The Department of Sanitation put forward a proposal Thursday that would require most “food-related businesses,” including thousands of restaurants and grocery stores, to dispose of their trash in solid receptacles instead of lone plastic bags, as the Adams administration steps up its War on Rats.
The proposed rule, which was first reported by the New York Times, will be subject to a public hearing on June 22, and would require restaurants, supermarkets, bodegas, catering companies, food manufacturers, and anyone else handling grub to dispose of all “putrescible waste” — meaning garbage that can become putrid, like food scraps — in “rigid receptacles with tight-fitting lids.”
New York is home to some 23,000 restaurants, 13,000 bodegas, and 10,000 supermarkets. Most of them bag up the day’s garbage in black plastic bags and set them out unencumbered on the street to be picked up overnight by private carters, but garbage trucks are often beaten to the punch by the city’s rats encountering a bountiful feast.
“These changes are a part of the City’s commitment to cleaning up New York City streets and reducing food sources for rats,” DSNY wrote in its proposal. “Requiring these businesses that produce a disproportionate amount of food waste to place their putrescible waste in sealed containers will meaningfully limit potential food sources for vermin.”
Businesses will still be able to set out non-organic waste in bags on the street under the proposal.
The proposal dovetails from DSNY’s recent moves to slowly phase out the mountains of garbage that dominate New York City’s streets. Earlier this month, the agency announced a pilot program in Harlem to test containerization for residential waste, with an eye towards potential citywide expansion and bringing the Big Apple in line with other world cities.
It would be a mammoth undertaking to containerize waste across the city both logistically and politically. DSNY says about 90% of the city’s streetscape is suitable for receptacled waste, but such a change would require the city to replace its garbage truck fleet with new vehicles that can automatically dump loads from containers into compactors, instead of relying on New York’s Strongest to toss the bags by hand.
Perhaps even thornier, the endeavor would necessitate repurposing about 150,000 of the city’s street parking spots for curbside waste containers. Over the years, driver backlash has ensued all over the five boroughs when the city ventured to repurpose far fewer spots for bike share, bike lanes, outdoor dining, and other uses.
Changing commercial trash collection will also inevitably come with backlash, which had already begun on Thursday when the NYC Hospitality Alliance, a major restaurant trade group, pushed back on DSNY’s “fanciful mandate.”
“While we support modernizing our trash collection system – and encourage the City to investigate installing containers where businesses can place their trash, like they want to do for residents – we strongly oppose this fanciful mandate,” said the Alliance’s executive director, Andew Rigie, in a statement to amNewYork Metro. “It is impossible for many restaurants to comply without hurting their businesses, their workers, and their communities. We need to work together toward a better solution.”
The Alliance argued that the proposal would present a vexing dilemma for the city’s restaurants, many of which are already in tight quarters and have limited room to store garbage cans indoors. The alternative, keeping them outside 24/7, would be an unsightly welcome to an eating establishment and could conflict with outdoor dining structures, the group claims.
Mayor Eric Adams has made no secret of his enmity toward rats, appointing a new “rat czar” to coordinate interagency efforts at mitigating the maligned rodents. The rat czar, Kathleen Corradi, said on her first day on the job that “every anti-rat initiative starts with making sure food-related waste gets into bins that rats can’t.”
Last year, the mayor — who himself was fined $300 in February for a rat infestation at his Bedford-Stuyvesant townhouse — introduced a new rule that pushed back the time residents and business owners are permitted to place trash on the curb from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. which he said would “send rats packing.” The rule went into effect in April.
In his State of the City address in January, Adams announced that the city would expand Queens’ curbside compost collection, where organic food and yard waste is separated out in brown bins, to all five boroughs by next year.