Too Much Trash? Get Rid of the Trashcans

Photo: Omar Omar

New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority is trying a counterintuitive approach to cleaning up the subway by removing trash cans from some of its dirtiest stations. According to the New York Times, a subway stop in Queens and another in Greenwich Village have been entirely without trashcans for the last two weeks:

The idea is to reduce the load on the authority’s overtaxed garbage crew, which is struggling to complete its daily rounds of clearing out 40 tons of trash from the system.

But it also offers a novel experiment: will New Yorkers stop throwing things away in the subway if there is no place to put them?

Results have so far been mixed. While one bin-less station appeared relatively clean to a Times reporter, the experiment is obviously having some knock-on effects.

A hole-in-the-wall bodega is nestled in the tile walls of the downtown platform. Its proprietor, Ranandra K. Talukder, said that since the bins were removed, he has been bombarded by riders who ask if they can throw away their trash in his store. Fiercely protective of what he deemed “my clean space,” he tells them no. He keeps his own garbage bin hidden behind the counter. “Very, very nasty,” he said of the platform outside his shop.

John Gaito, a subway vice president who supervises trash collection, said the no-bin pilot had had mixed results. The system’s cleaner who sweeps at Eighth Street is a fan; the cleaner at Main Street in Flushing, one of the busiest in the system, is not. “He sees more trash,” Mr. Gaito said of the Main Street worker.

Similar experiments have also had mixed results in other cities. While some Underground stations in London have no trash cans, Washington D.C.  abandoned its bin-less experiment because of riders’ complaints.  Seems to me that removing trashcans to reduce trash is sort of akin to removing highways to reduce traffic, which has worked in some cities.

Leave A Comment

Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.

 

COMMENTS: 22

View All Comments »
  1. 164 says:

    The public has a tendancy to leave anonymous messages, like when the public toilets are locked, leaving a “deposit” by the locked door.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 1
  2. Andy says:

    No train stations in the UK have bins, not just London underground. That was more to do with the IRA terrorism than any sort of cleanup.

    Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0
    • Dave_W says:

      @Andy – sorry, that’s not right. Most train stations in the UK have bins, and many Tube (London Underground) stations do too.

      The threat from the IRA led to the removal of bins in central London – both on the Tube and on the streets. Over recent years various of the local authorities have begun deploying new bins – now there are 1,600+ bins in Tube stations or within walking distance from them, and recently the Mayor announced a 10% increase as we start to gear up for the Olympics.

      I believe that even the City of London Corporation (the authority that covers the financial district, generally considered to be the main terrorist target) has now begun installing new bins – although still only in areas that are well away from the heart of that district.

      Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0
      • Michelle says:

        We’re traveling in London this week. Just yesterday we were searching for a place to throw a banana peel…no bins in sight at any of the three stations from start to finish. Finally used a grocery bag I keep in my bag for baby emergencies. Anyone, we remarked on how amazing it is to see no bins & no garbage. In my experience, it seems somehow London has gotten this idea to work.

        Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0
      • Owen says:

        I spent years living in London and I definitely have memories of carrying trash with me because there wasn’t a bin. If they exist, they are hard to find.

        The only bins I remember seeing in London were not really bins, just hoops to hold clear plastic bags. This seemed like a good solution for a lot of reasons, terrorism included.

        Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0
      • Dave_W says:

        I don’t mean to give the wrong impression – public litter bins in the City and the borough of Westminster are deliberately rare, albeit now slightly on the increase. My point was that it’s based on geography (i.e. central London) rather than having anything to do with trains (Tube or otherwise).

        In the 30+ London boroughs that aren’t Westminster or the City, I don’t believe there’s any particular policy on bins. There certainly isn’t a policy of not having them on Tube or train stations, it’s just that the stations most often used by people who don’t live here are in the City or Westminster – because that’s where the vast majority of places that a visitor would go (either for work or leisure) happens to be.

        Everything I’ve heard thus far about the Olympics suggests that, in order to give a good impression of London to the visiting world, we’ll be providing more bins – but it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if they were all kept a safe distance from the exterior of the Stadium, Velodrome etc. I think we’ve adopted the policy of “Plant a bomb in our bin once, shame on you. Plant a bomb in our bin twice…”.

        Sorry if I caused any confusion – it’s absolutely the case that there are very few bins in central London, and (from experience) it’s often a real pain!

        Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0
    • Sam says:

      I encountered this in a central London train station a few years ago. After walking around for 5 minutes looking for a place to throw out my paper coffee cup I asked a policeman what to do with it. His answer was: “Just put it on the ground like everyone else.”

      This would seem to be a terrible precedent to set, especially for a city that is trying to follow the “broken window” theory.

      Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0
  3. Jeff says:

    There are almost no trash bins *anywhere* on the streets in Tokyo, only outside the convenience stores where you can buy the drinks and snacks that produce the garbage. There’s no litter. I assumed this to be a purely cultural thing, but maybe this has something to do with it as well…

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0
    • Bgriff says:

      Trying to find a place to throw trash away in Tokyo can be a major annoyance…I have walked around for hours with a store’s plastic bag filling up with wrappers and such. Clearly the cultural norms help a great deal there; I can’t imagine many people in New York bothering to do that.

      Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0
  4. Eric M. Jones. says:

    There is a tendency for public servants to forget just who the customer is. I was once a member of a social group where the treasurer fought for Kool-Aid and popcorn at parties instead of the more expensive munchies like pastries and coffee. She saw this as her duty…it’s the money-thing you know.

    The real solutions require innovative thinking…and while it is not in short supply, it doesn’t nest in the same forests as the bureaucrats.

    Thumb up 3 Thumb down 3
  5. Mike says:

    After having lived for quite a few years without a dishwasher, I know that removing a dishwasher reduces dirty dishes.

    Here, though, I don’t think the goal is to reduce trash. It’s to reduce the number of places people have to put their trash so that workers don’t have to spend as long tracking it all down. It used to be that we thought people were such jerks that if we didn’t have trashcans everywhere, they’d throw their trash in the road. Now that we’ve conditioned people to use trashcans, we can increase our efficiency by having fewer trashcans.

    I live in Boston and our trashcans have solar-powered trash compactors. I can’t recall the exact figure, but I think they need to be emptied about 5 times less often than traditional trashcans and it has cut down a lot on collection costs.

    [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The poster sent us ’0 which is not a hashcash value.

    Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1
  6. Mike says:

    After having lived for quite a few years without a dishwasher, I know that removing a dishwasher reduces dirty dishes.

    Here, though, I don’t think the goal is to reduce trash. It’s to reduce the number of places people have to put their trash so that workers don’t have to spend as long tracking it all down. It used to be that we thought people were such jerks that if we didn’t have trashcans everywhere, they’d throw their trash in the road. Now that we’ve conditioned people to use trashcans, we can increase our efficiency by having fewer trashcans.

    I live in Boston and our trashcans have solar-powered trash compactors. I can’t recall the exact figure, but I think they need to be emptied about 5 times less often than traditional trashcans and it has cut down a lot on collection costs.

    Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0
  7. cjc says:

    I think it’s sort of unclear what the incentives are, given as large an organization as the Transit Authority. Certainly, the people who run the trash trains and empty the bins would want less work, but they’re not necessarily the same people as the ones that have to pick up the garbage thrown on the tracks or stuck in weird nooks on the platforms.

    Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1
  8. Jon says:

    Why bother placing trash receptacles at the stations at all? It’s a transportation system, designed to move large amounts of material from one place to another, running preconfigured routes. Why not put trash collection systems in the cars themselves? Each end-of-line station can incorporate a system to then collect the trash out of the cars, meaning the sanitation workers only need to collect the refuse from this limited number of locations at fewer times throughout the day.

    Perhaps it could be expensive to implement, or introduce fears of new locations for hiding explosives within the transit system, I suppose, but I bet it could be made to work well.

    Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1
    • Jeff says:

      Hmmm… Seems like a good idea at face value, but I think there are a lot of issues. I don’t want to be pressed up against a garbage can on my morning commute, plus the fact that it takes up valuable space for 3 or 4 more people (Ride the 4 or 5 on a weekday morning if you think the trains don’t get that crowded). What if it spills over or overflows? What about the smell?

      Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0