City Trash by the Numbers

Trash from a Soho retailer's bathroom.Photo: Bobby Doherty/New York Magazine

The year the first garbage law is enacted in Dutch-controlled Fort Amsterdam. It bans soldiers and other residents from discarding filth and ashes within the fort.

The Department of Street Cleaning is established.

George Waring Jr., a.k.a. the “APOSTLE OF CLEANLINESS,” is named head of the Department of Street Cleaning. He prohibits his workers from entering a saloon during work hours, raises the monthly salary to $60, and establishes an all-white dress code.

The year a large dog named BATTLE-AXE BILL is placed on Rikers Island, then a landfill, to keep the millions-strong rat population at bay. He is summarily devoured.

The year that the garbage-disposal ban—instated in the seventies—was lifted in New York.

The number of litter baskets on city streets.

The number of trash-eating hogs exiled to city outskirts in 1849.

The number of dead horses removed from New York’s alleys and gutters in 1880.

Percentage of the city built atop landfills.

Six miles:
The distance offshore from which sailors say they can smell NYC in the 1840’s.

The amount of garbage, in tons, generated annually by New York City: 3,269,659
Manhattan: 606,176
• The Bronx: 604,640
• Brooklyn: 983,160
• Queens: 856,103
• Staten Island: 219,580

Most Common items found in city garbage, according to anthropologist of discard studies Robin Nagle:
Textiles (holey socks, etc.)
Food waste
Hard plastics
Dry-cleaner bags

Percentage of trash New Yorkers throw away that is estimated to be recyclable.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, sanitation workers have the nation’s FOURTH most dangerous job, ranking behind only fishermen, loggers, and pilots.

The number of earrings per ear city sanitation workers are allowed to wear.

2.9 pounds of garbage:
What an average New Yorker generates daily.

4.4 pounds of garbage:
What an average American generates daily.

Damages awarded to six South Carolinans over the “rotten-egg odor” coming from the Lee County Landfill, which receives New York’s trash.

Number of DSNY workers’ hands artist Mierle Laderman Ukeles shook as part of her seventies piece “Touch Sanitation:” 8,500

Sources: The DSNY; Benjamin Miller, former director of policy planning for the DSNY and author of Fat of the Land: Garbage of New York; Robin Nagle, resident anthropologist for the DSNY and author of Picking Up: On the Streets and Behind the Trucks with the Sanitation Workers of New York City; Steven Corey, professor at Columbia College Chicago; Daniel Eli Burnstein, author of Next to Godliness: Confronting Dirt and Despair in Progressive Era New York City.

City Trash by the Numbers