Why is NYC So Dirty?

New York City is one of the most famous cities in the world. It’s very diverse, featuring everything from the best fashion stores to business tycoons to Broadway performances. But residents also experience pollution, especially in the form of dirty streets. So, why is NYC so dirty?

NYC is a pretty dirty place to live. Several factors are responsible for the dirtiness of NYC. They include the amount of waste generated, underfunding of waste management authorities, dirty subways, congestion, and poor recycling culture.

The dirty condition of New York City isn’t entirely surprising given its population. As the largest city by population in America, the city is an economic center with factories, cars, people, etc.,  which means a high pollution concentration. NYC residents enjoy a high quality of life with several economic opportunities, public transport, optimum healthcare, vibrant nightlife, and other benefits. But the dirty streets and littered sidewalks are an eyesore.

How Dirty is New York City? 

The fact that NYC is a dirty place is something that every resident will admit. Many mayoral candidates in the past even ran under the promise of cleaning up the city. So far, they have mostly failed. For first-timers to NYC, it’s always a surprise to find that this world-class city isn’t as clean as they’d expect. But most residents are already used to the problem even as they complain about it.

Several reports have named New York City as one of the dirtiest cities in America. According to Lawnstarter, New York City is the 6th most polluted city in America. New York City isn’t the dirtiest just because of its garbage-littered streets. The air pollution in the city is a significant part of its problem and why it’s one of the most polluted cities.

Factor Responsible for Dirtiness of New York City

It’s difficult to point to one reason exactly why NYC is dirty. Even authorities are still trying to figure it out. But several factors contribute to the present dirtiness of the city. They include:

1. It Generates a Large Amount of Waste

New York City has a population of over 8 million people, making it the most populated city in America by far. With this large number of people also comes large waste. Although there’s no specific data on how much waste the city generates, the Department of Sanitation handled 12,000 tons of waste daily in 2017. This only accounts for residential and institutional building waste as commercial waste is dealt with by private operators.

Another report claims that the city generates 14 million tons of waste every year. But a study by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reports that the city generates 33 million tons of waste annually. Unfortunately, only about 30% of the waste is recycled or converted into energy; the rest are sent to incinerators in places as far as Ohio and Pennsylvania. 

2. Dirty Subways

It’s hard to talk about the garbage in NYC without mentioning the subway. The unclean state of the subway further contributes to the overall dirtiness of the city. The two major problems with subways are trash and peeling paint. Subway authorities have blamed the dirty state of subways on various factors. In most cases, the lining tracks aren’t not cleaned often enough, vacuum trains are too old and break down often, cleaning crews rarely clean the whole tracks, etc. As a result, the dirty state of NYC subways further increases the pollution in the whole city.

3. Underfunding of Waste Management Authorities

Another issue contributing to poor waste management and dirtiness of NYC is the fact that waste management authorities are usually not fully funded to do their job. The department of sanitation and other waste management authorities in the city have had several budget cuts, which has affected its ability to function optimally. 

Budget cuts mean it can’t employ sufficient staff or have enough equipment to do what’s necessary. For example, the NYC Parks Department recently had an $84 million budget cut. This meant it could not afford to hire seasonal workers to clean green spaces in the city. The economic impact of COVID-19 on the city’s purse is one of the reasons for these budget cuts. But underfunded agencies can’t function effectively, which defeats the city’s goal to generate zero waste by 2030.

4. Congestion

A city with a population of over 8 million cannot escape several forms of pollution, and NYC is a perfect example of that. What makes the case worse in NYC is the city’s old infrastructure, which continues to falter under the burden of the population. 

The attitude of residents doesn’t help matters either. While some residents have taken to cleaning their streets, it’s not a general thing. In several cases, residents also fail to clean up their sidewalks. Moreover, with the widespread culture of ordering food and other products in the city, residents generate more waste than necessary.

The Department of Sanitation also has limited powers to make residents follow the rules. For example, while it can compel private homeowners to clean their sidewalks, it doesn’t have the authority to give public entities such as state, federal, and city agencies tickets for littering their sidewalks. 

5. Poor Recycling Culture

The attitude of the city authorities and residents to recycling also contributes to the dirty state of NYC. While several mayors have run on the mandate of waste management and recycling, most have failed to implement their promises and policies. Currently, recycling in New York City is at 18% for residential buildings and 25% for commercial buildings. 

The numbers are this low due to several factors such as the low number of recycling bins available, weak regulation to enforce recycling and waste management, low demand for recycled materials, etc. In addition, the poor recycling culture further contributes to the high amount of waste in the city which becomes too much for the relevant authorities to handle most times. Until all these problems are addressed, recycling in the city will remain low, further meaning more waste on the streets.

In Conclusion

Several factors contribute to the overall dirtiness of New York City. These factors are economical, administrative, and social. In order to clean up New York City, residents, authorities, and other stakeholders need to work together to address each of the factors.