We have a problem in New York City: We generate more than 30,000 tons of waste each day. Roughly one third of that waste is household trash, and the daunting task of collecting garbage from New York City’s three million households falls to 7,000 workers from the . They are, in the words of artist Mierle Laderman Ukeles, “.”
All of NYC’s waste is shipped out of state for disposal. But first, the city must consolidate the garbage at one of 58 waste transfer stations. In addition to the overpowering odors the trash itself produces, these stations generate a constant stream of truck traffic, air pollution, noise pollution, and safety issues. So, of course, no one wants to live near them.
Thus, it may come as no surprise that most of NYC’s waste transfer stations are concentrated in the Bronx, Queens, and Brooklyn. In 1996, the to address this injustice, and over the next decade these groups worked with hundreds of concerned citizens, ultimately culminating in the passage of the City’s . Although the plan laid the foundation for a more equitable distribution of these facilities, attempts to locate a waste transfer station in Manhattan have been met with litigation and outrage.
I think about these numbers every time I place my family’s trash can on the curb for sanitation workers to empty. These workers do this thankless and risky job every day. Sanitation workers are far more likely to be than are police officers or firefighters. In 2010, this was the case when NYC sanitation worker Frank Justich was hit by a truck and killed while on the job in Queens. My daily commute takes me past the corner where he died, which was renamed Frank Justich Way in his honor. How many of us know the names of the men and women who collect our trash? Their vital contribution to our welfare goes unacknowledged: their specialized knowledge and skills overlooked.
This is why the (CUER) is launching itswhich uses NYC waste-handling practices to consider broader questions of urban sustainability. This initiative highlights the importance of including under-represented voices in the waste planning processes: communities burdened with landfills and transfer stations; workers tasked with collecting and handling wastes; and young people saddled with undesirable economic and ecological legacies.
The kick-off event, , will take place this Thursday, November 14, at 6 p.m. at CUNY School of Law. Commemorating Frank Justich’s life and service, this event highlights the contributions sanitation workers make to urban sustainability. The event will be memorialized by Frank Justich’s widow, who will speak briefly about what it means to her that this event is commemorating her husband’s life and work. Other participants include , anthropologist-in-residence at the NYC Department of Sanitation and author of myself, Professor and CUER Director; artist , creator of and artist-in-residence at the NYC Department of Sanitation; NYC Sanitation Commissioner; and three NYC high school students speaking on behalf of future generations. More information is available on . Don’t live in New York? No Problem! The events are free and it is open to the public, and online. Hope to see you there!