Environment, Featured, News, Politics

Jamaica drowning in garbage

0 Comments 24 January 2010

Jamaica drowning in garbage

By Omar Kasrawi

This story originally appeared in The Queens Chronicle.

When portrait photographer Andrew Smart looks out the window of his office on Parsons Boulevard in Jamaica, he sees garbage — four-foot high piles of it erupting out of a rusted green litter basket. And right next to that, more trash, big black garbage bags bursting at the seams with illegally dumped household refuse.

“It’s disgusting,” said an exasperated Smart, 62. “Why can’t they pick up the garbage enough to keep the streets clean?”

Such a sight can be seen at nearly every litter basket along Parsons Boulevard leading up to the Jamaica Center-Parsons/Archer subway stop, where some 30,000 people catch a bus or train every day. Although Queens generates 2,359 tons of trash a day, second only to Brooklyn’s 2,610 tons, and is the second most highly populated borough in the city, it merits only two garbage pickups per week.

“We need collections seven days a week,” said Yvonne Reddick, district manager of Community Board 12, whose area generates 260 tons of refuse each day, the most of any community in the city, according to the Mayor’s Office. The litter baskets at the subway stop “are always overflowing,” she added.

Trash pickups, however are based on population density, not just total amount of waste produced or overall population numbers. As a result, Jamaica — like the rest of Queens — gets one fewer pickup per week than any Manhattan neighborhood.

Councilman James Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows) wants to change that. As the only Queens member on the City Council’s Sanitation and Solid Waste Management Subcommittee, he plans to introduce legislation requiring the Sanitation Department to empty street-side litter baskets at least once a day throughout the city. He has the support of state Sen. Toby Ann Stavisky, and Assembly members David Weprin and Rory Lancman, but it is unclear how much backing he has on the council. Hearings on the matter could be scheduled as early as January.

This wouldn’t be the first time Gennaro has pushed for daily trash pickups citywide. He first tried this five years ago, although the push hasn’t gone as far as legislation until now. “When money’s flush, litter baskets get picked up, and when things start to get cut back they don’t as much,” Gennaro said in an interview. “If this law gets introduced and passed they will have to make those pickups, no matter what the budget is.”

The Sanitation Department budget was cut this fiscal year, just like that of other city agencies. Sanitation claims its 2009-10 budget is $80 million lower than the year-earlier. However the City Council’s hearing record on the Fiscal 2010 Executive Budget for the Department of Sanitation shows a $6 million increase in the 2010 executive budget plan, compared to 2009’s adopted budget.

A Sanitation spokesman said the department does not comment on proposed legislation prior to a hearing. “We are, however, doing more with less, due to fiscal realities,” he added.

While rubbish piles up at the Archer Avenue-Parsons subway stop, the garbage cans only a block away on Jamaica Avenue are neatly lined with bags and not overflowing. That’s because the 30-block-long commercial strip is part of the Jamaica Business Improvement District, where contractors make trash pickups multiple times per day.

A contracting firm, Academic Stone, cleans out the 75 garbage receptacles and relines the larger “big belly” baskets, which hold more than the municipal garbage cans.

Once off that commercial strip, however, illegal dumping of household trash is a problem. It’s also punishable by a $100 summons.

That is no deterrent, as the owner of the Precious Children’s Day Care center in Hollis has learned the hard way. Donna Hines found a ragged mattress in front of her day care center recently, but left it out front because she didn’t want to bring anything so soiled and possibly contaminated through the building to her garbage space behind the premises.

Now Hines polices the curbside herself. “I had to put up a camera because you can’t have garbage overflowing in front of a place where children are,” she said. “And now if they try to fine me for people dumping I can show them that it wasn’t me who was breaking the law.”

Apparently unable to stop such dumping, the sanitation department is taking a softer approach, providing Community Board 12 with educational fliers to teach people to leave their household waste by the curbside.

“We have an ever increasingly diverse population that needs to be educated,” Reddick said. “So why bring it to a litter basket? Just take it to the designated curb, where it will be picked up.”

Gennaro expressed optimism that his bill might finally do the trick, and citywide daily trashcan pickup could become a reality. “If this doesn’t happen,” he said, “five mayors from now we’re going to be having the same conversation.”

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