You can take away the garbage cans but can you take away the garbage? The MTA, in expanding its no trash can pilot program last month claimed that the program would make subway stations trash can, and thereby trash, free. But Upper East Side residents, who have been left holding the coffee cup/apple core/dirty napkins, say that the policy has done just the opposite.
In a recent survey conducted by Council member Jessica Lappin’s office, 66 percent of 218 respondents said that they’d noticed more trash at the 57th Street F Train station since the garbage cans went away. But even people who hadn’t slipped on any banana peels in the last 30 days thought the removal was a bad idea—93 percent of 515 respondents.
When the expansion of the pilot program from two stations to ten was announced at the end of August, naysayers pointed to the piles of cleverly stashed trash being left under benches and behind pillars at the can-less stations. And now, Upper East Siders claim that there is a growing mountain of evidence—literally, heaps of it—that prove the program isn’t working.
“As you might expect, taking away the trash cans doesn’t mean people magically stop producing garbage. In particular, we hearing that the amount of litter at the 57th Street Station has gone up since the bins were removed,” said Ms. Lappin in a release about the survey. “The MTA should toss out this plan and put the garbage cans back.”
In response to the survey, the MTA wrote in an email to The Observer that the first two stations in the pilot do show initial positive results and that the new stations are being “closely monitored and the results will be analyzed to determine where removing trash cans works best and whether to continue the program in the future.”
In Ms. Lappin’s survey, 28 percent of respondents did say that the amount of trash in the station had remained basically the same, which would seem to prove the MTA’s point: that people will take their trash with them if there’s no place to throw it. Or, at least, the kind of people who conscientiously seek out garbage cans will be inclined to take their trash with them, thereby reducing the rat population and trash pickup. Although it’s anyone’s guess how crafty subway riders might be getting at hiding their trash, or how much might be ending up on the tracks, conveniently compacted by the trains.
The PATH trains and the London Underground have both eliminated garbage cans, allegedly without disastrous results, (although a reader pointed out that the London Underground only removed the cans, not the trash bags) but where does the garbage go? The removal of trash cans at the two pilot locations in Flushing, Queens and Greenwich Village has not lead to a greater burden for the street level trash cans handled by the city’s Sanitation Department, according to The New York Times.
Unless New York City residents can eliminate the kind of packaging and disposable goods that are garbage’s raw material, it does have to go somewhere. And New Yorkers, who tend to walk a lot and haul their belongings on their backs and shoulders through crowded streets, can’t exactly be blamed for not wanting to hang onto their would-be refuse. When the expansion of the program was announced, at least one subway newsstand vendor admitted he’d been accepting trash from confused riders.
Still, MTA chair Joseph Lhota has been extremely optimistic. When the expansion was announced in August he urged rides, via The New York Times, to treat the subway “as you would treat your home.”
Of course, we would never throw trash on the floor at home. But then, we have trash cans.