Corona residents complain about the problem of dirt and trash in their neighborhood. (Photo by Edwin Martínez via El Diario)
It is 2 p.m. in New York City. An intense chill takes over and, on the streets of Corona, Queens, piles of fallen leaves indicate that winter is near. However, the yellow leaves are not the only thing on the ground. Magazine pages, plastic bags, soda cans, coffee cups, supermarket coupons and even a gallon of milk and a pair of old shoes are strewn along 92nd Street, steps away from Roosevelt Avenue.
“The city is increasingly dirty. Paper, plastic and aluminum abound every day,” complains Lilia Rodríguez, a Mexican mother living in the neighborhood for more than 10 years who insists in a frustrated tone that the streets there have become “a garbage dump.”
Still, the stay-at-home mom’s observations and the street’s appearance do not match reports from the Department of Sanitation (DSNY) stating that 95 percent of the city’s streets are acceptably clean, and the rate is higher when it comes to sidewalks. The DSNY stands by its efforts.
“The Department of Sanitation is working to keep the city healthy, safe and clean. It collects trash and recycles, cleans the streets, empties trash bins, clears vacant lots and the snow in the winter, among other tasks, in order to ensure that the city is clean and safe,” said a spokesperson for the agency.
On another Corona street, one of the 27,000 trash cans located throughout the five boroughs is overflowing. Although it cannot hold one more piece of paper, people continue to put their garbage there.
“There is nowhere else to put it because all the bins are full,” explains Richard Angelino, from Colombia, after depositing a plastic bag containing a piece of leftover bread and an empty plastic juice bottle. “The truth is that we should have more manners. No one wants to walk around with trash in their hand, so we leave it wherever we can,” he adds, admitting that, even though the city should place larger bins in the streets, there is also a lack of awareness among residents regarding cleanliness.
A block away, a 70-year-old Peruvian man approaches one of the trash cans, takes out its contents, letting them drop to the ground, and grabs three bottles and two cans to sell at recycling machines.
“Those are the people who make this neighborhood dirty. The sanitation crews come and clean all the time, but these recyclers rip up the bags and leave trash scattered, so it’s double the work for the public service guys,” says Carlos Campoverde, an Ecuadorean who has lived in New York for 12 years.
“The other people who turn this place into a dump are those who hang posters on the lamp posts. They come and rip old posters to glue new ones, and leave all the shreds on the ground,” Campoverde added. “They should fine them and the companies who post them, so that people can learn to show respect and be tidy. The mayor and politicians should pass new laws to improve this, because we can’t take it anymore.”
Millions have been invested
In light of the concern felt by this and many other residents throughout the city who face a similar situation every day, Lacey Tauber, the legislative director of the office of Antonio Reynoso, chair of the City Council’s Committee on Sanitation and Solid Waste Management, pointed out that several programs are in place aimed at promoting a clean city.
“During fiscal year 2017, the City Council allocated $7.8 million to the NYC Clean Up initiative, which grants each member over $100,000 to assign to groups working to keep the city cleaner,” said the public employee. “For extra trash collection to exist, groups such as the ACE and Doe Fund help the Department of Sanitation in cleaning sidewalks, as well as other local organizations, which makes a great difference in keeping New York’s streets cleaner.”
Reynoso’s spokeswoman declined to comment about whether the council will promote initiatives to regulate individual recyclers who, according to residents, are creating disorder and filth while searching for bottles and cans.
Meanwhile, state Sen. José Peralta, who heard the complaints of his district’s constituents, admitted to being concerned about the fact that the city has turned dirtier, and asked the council and the de Blasio administration to find solutions to this very real problem.
“A few weeks ago, I met with DSNY Commissioner Kathryn García, and she told me that council members are responsible for investing more money from the budget in cleanup tasks,” he said. “The filth accumulating on the streets is quite worrisome, and I have spoken out about this situation.”
Lillian Zepeda, communications director for Council member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, from Corona, said that the political leader has assigned $150,000 to improve the quality of life of the residents of the neighborhood and its surroundings through street cleaning.
“These funds have gone to additional street sweeping, clearing brochures and graffiti and emptying trash cans in Corona Plaza, 103rd Street, 37th Avenue, Junction Boulevard and Astoria Boulevard,” said Zepeda, explaining that there is another plan in place to improve the neighborhood’s image.
“Any resident can have graffiti removed just by calling our office. That is also something that Council member Ferreras-Copeland is proud to advocate during the council’s budget process. She hopes to continue financing initiatives such as Clean Up in the five boroughs,” she added.
Council member Rafael Espinal, chair of the council’s Committee on Consumer Affairs, also said he was worried about the grime in several parts of the Big Apple.
“All New Yorkers should be able to walk on the street without having to dodge piles of trash. The problem seems to be on the rise,” said the council member, adding that it is urgent to develop education programs.
“We must educate New Yorkers regarding adequate disposal and recycling methods at home and on our streets. We also have to do more as a city to dedicate resources to cleaning. That is why, as a member of the council, I have helped create the NYC Clean Up initiative, which hires cleaning crews to clean the streets and adds extra trash bins in our neighborhoods,” he said, adding that he proposed that the law applies to can collectors who create filth.
“Bottle collectors help with the recycling process and, in general, are not a problem, but if there are a few of them who don’t clean up after themselves, then the city needs to step up its enforcement of the law for them to respond,” he concluded.
In response to complaints blaming them for a large part of the trash problem, José Chalita, a Bolivian recycler who traverses Astoria every day to make a living, considered that singling out people like him is like wanting to kill a dog because it has fleas.
“I know that some fellow recyclers are inconsiderate and don’t leave bags the way they found them, but the problem of dirty streets is not our fault but the fault of the authorities and inconsiderate people,” he said. “Educate people, fine those who litter, and clean more. Don’t try to disguise the problem.”