New York

Residents Question $7,000, Solar-Powered Trash Cans in War Against NYC Rats

What to Know

  • Residents are questioning the city’s highly-touted weapon against rats: $7,000, solar-powered garbage cans
  • But residents in neighborhoods like Chinatown say garbage bags are piling up next to the bins, defeating their purpose
  • The Sanitation Department says its workers pick up the bags daily

Rodent-proof garbage cans touted by the city as a major weapon in the war against rats are being questioned in one New York City neighborhood.

The metal, solar-powered bins were installed in the city’s worst rat-infested neighborhoods to keep trashed food away from hungry rodents.

Those "rat reservoirs" include parts of Brooklyn, the Bronx, and the Lower East Side, East Village and Chinatown neighborhoods in Manhattan.

By November, officials say 118 garbage cans had been installed in Chinatown, at $7,000 apiece.

“I come out before the sun comes out and normally our corners are filled just like this,” said community activist Karlin Chan as he pointed to piles of garbage bags next to the rat-proof receptacles.

In recent weeks, residents have noticed garbage bags piled up next to these pricey garbage cans, including near Columbus Park, which is well known for its rat problem.

Workers from the Chinatown Business Improvement District remove the white garbage bags from the rat-proof bins. They then leave them on the sidewalk for the Department of Sanitation to pick up. But how often that happens, depends on who you ask.

“I don’t see them collect it very often, so it creates the same situation as before,” said George Ma, who owns a souvenir shop.

Fung Lam, who runs a vegetable market, says it defeats the purpose of the receptacles when they leave garbage out for extended periods of time.

“When you leave the garbage bags out, people can still break open the bags and disturb the garbage,” Lam said.

But Wellington Chen, executive director of the Chinatown Partnership, says “this system is actually working beautifully.”

He says these receptacles compact the garbage and therefore fewer garbage bags are needed per day.

But Chen acknowledged tighter coordination with the Sanitation Department is needed. The department currently says its workers pick up trash from the bins daily in Chinatown, sometimes even twice a day.

“Because these garbage cans contain data,” Chen explained. “The day will come when the sanitation department will know when this is full and when they have to get it.”

Residents are asking for a more immediate solution.

“Sanitation needs to coordinate services with our Business Improvement District," Karlin Chan said. “It defeats the whole purpose of having these cans if you just leave garbage on the street.”

Rat complaints are up from this time last year, so it’s not clear how well these bins are working. The community board will be discussing the issue with city officials to see if any improvements can be made.

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