BY THE VILLAGE SUN | More trash pickups, sanitation “strike teams,” parking lane-based containers and a sci-fi tubular system to whisk waste away — plus possible new business improvement districts in the Village, Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen — are all part of a “sweeping” sanitation plan by Council candidate Erik Bottcher.
On Tuesday, Bottcher announced an ambitious scheme to, as he put it, “address the unsatisfactory sanitation conditions in our neighborhoods and enhance environmental sustainability.”
Bottcher’s “Clean District 3” platform ranges from increasing basic services to implementing innovative ideas that could reshape New York’s City’s sanitation as we know it today. Investing in sanitation is a must if the city is to bounce back from the pandemic and to attract business, residents and tourists once again, according to the candidate.
“Picking up the trash and keeping our neighborhoods clean is one of the fundamental responsibilities of city government,” Bottcher said. “If New York City is going to recover economically from this crisis, we need to put our best foot forward to the world, and that includes having clean streets. Overflowing corner baskets represent a failure of government services. It’s time to rethink our approach to sanitation and give it the resources that it deserves. I’m excited to make this vision a reality as a member of the City Council.”
“Erik Bottcher has laid out a progressive and practical series of recommendations that will make communities cleaner and more sustainable. Every single one of his commonsense suggestions, especially the ones that will reduce plastic pollution, should be embraced by New York City officials,” said Judith Enck, former Environmental Protection Agency regional administrator and President of Beyond Plastics.
Bottcher is calling for “a significant increase” in street-corner basket pickups. Last year, to help close the budget gap, the Department of Sanitation’s budget was slashed by $106 million. Weekly litter basket runs were cut by 63 percent. Sunday basket service was eliminated entirely. Some service was restored, but not in Council District 3. Bottcher is calling for a full restoration of basket service, and an increase over time, noting that overflowing waste baskets were “a chronic problem even before the pandemic.”
Bottcher is also calling for street cleaning to be restored to two days a week after it was reduced to once a week this past by Mayor de Blasio. According to the candidate, the reduction in service his has resulted in trash accumulating on side streets, alongside parked cars and in gutters.
The candidate says he will also push for the purchase of smaller street sweepers that can properly clean narrow bike lanes. Many bike lanes are too narrow for full-size street sweepers, and they frequently accumulate trash. Smaller street sweepers, such as those the Hudson River Park Trust uses to clean the West Side bikeway, are needed, he said.
In addition, Bottcher backs the creation of borough-wide Department of Sanitation “strike teams” that respond to 311 calls in real time for complaints of overflowing waste baskets and other unsanitary conditions. This would also help curb the rodent problem that these conditions can feed.
Taking a page from a sanitation strategy used in places like Buenos Aires and Barcelona, Bottcher would advocate for the use of on-street containers, not sidewalks, for garbage collection on pickup days. Currently, on trash pickup days, the city’s sidewalks are often encumbered by “mountains of trash bags,” a press release for Bottcher’s plan says. “It doesn’t have to be this way,” the release states. “Instead of piling bags on the sidewalk in front of each building for collection, the city should allow residential communities to use on-street containers or corrals in centralized locations on each block. This concept is currently being piloted by the Department of Transportation and the Department of Sanitation in commercial districts, but it should be expanded to residential neighborhoods immediately and give New Yorkers relief from congested and unsanitary sidewalks.”
Bottcher also says “additional BID coverage” should be considered in the Village, Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen, which would also help keep trash under control. He supports the creation of a new West Village Business Improvement District that has been proposed by the Seventh Ave. South Alliance. In Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen, “community-led processes should take place to determine if local residents would like BID coverage there,” the press release notes. This includes a potential new Chelsea BID and a northward expansion of the HYHK BID, run by the Hudson Yards Hell’s Kitchen Alliance. BIDs are financed by fees paid by property owners, and use the funds to provide various benefits for the community, including supplemental sanitation services, often in partnership with organizations like ACE Programs for the Homeless or The Doe Fund.
In another novel idea, Bottcher would push for a pilot pneumatic-tube program that would use automated waste-disposal bins in high-density areas to suck garbage from the bins to underground tubes connected to centralized locations. This is currently done in cities around the world, such as Songdo, South Korea. In the short term, Bottcher says, a pneumatic tube should be installed underneath the High Line that could transfer garbage from up and down the West Side to centralized collection locations, reducing truck traffic on the streets. Additionally, Bottcher supports installing this technology at large complexes such as New York City Housing Authority developments and Penn South.
The idea of using pneumatic collection tubes under the High Line and at large complexes and sites in Council District 3 for trash removal was first studied by the firm ClosedLoops in 2013. Community Board 4 supported the plan in 2016 and it was also backed by the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability. A similar system has been in use on Roosevelt Island since the 1970s.
Also Bottcher would fund the replacement of traditional wire corner trash baskets with modern high-capacity bins throughout Council District 3.
Getting more into the trash itself, Bottcher is calling for “universal organic waste collection.” This would require New Yorkers to separate food scraps and yard waste from their household and commercial trash. According to the candidate, a mandatory organic waste program could divert more than 1 million tons of garbage from landfills each year, reducing carbon emissions, preventing rodent infestation and improving sidewalk conditions on trash collection days. During his time as Council Speaker Corey Johnson’s District 3 chief of staff, Bottcher helped substantially increase organic waste programs in Council District 3, including getting new drop-off locations added and facilitating curbside pickup at Westbeth Artists Housing, Penn South and Manhattan Plaza.
In addition, his plan calls for the city to begin using compost to generate clean energy, which he said could be done at a new green energy hub on Rikers Island.
The Council contender says he would also fight to phase out single-use plastics in New York City, including plastic straws, stir sticks and single-use water bottles. According to the Mayor’s Office, roughly 36 million pounds of single-use plastic “foodware” is collected from New York City’s residential waste stream each year. According to the candidate’s press release, “While banning plastic bags and polystyrene foam were positive steps, we need to go much further if we are to save our ecosystem.”
Furthermore, Bottcher charged that “Sanitation Scorecards” for street cleanliness issued by the Mayor’s Office of Operations have not always been in line with actual conditions on the ground and are often “out of step with reality.” He is calling for this ratings system to be revamped and updated. He also said that a unit in the Mayor’s Office of Operations known as SCOUT (Street Conditions Observation Unit) is “unknown to most New Yorkers and does not directly coordinate with local elected officials and community boards.” Bottcher pledged to work more closely with this unit and accompany SCOUT inspectors on their monthly route in Council District 3.
It’s not breaking news but newspaper boxes are often eyesores, often filthy, covered with graffiti and stickers, broken and filed with all kinds of litter and junk. Bottcher is calling for stricter standards for design, placement and maintenance of newspaper boxes, either legislatively or administratively, with the next mayoral administration. If elected, Bottcher would co-sponsor legislation similar to that introduced by Councilmember Danny Dromm that has not yet passed.
Finally, Bottcher, if elected, would push for the Big Apple to do a better job of recovering leftover food from restaurants and other food establishments in order both to address food insecurity among New Yorkers and divert that food from the waste stream. Currently, 68 percent of all food waste discarded in New York City is still considered edible, according to Bottcher. In the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, when more New Yorkers are experiencing food insecurity, it is essential to reexamine our food waste and recovery practices, he said.