6 ways NYC can help you recycle, compost, and throw out trash more responsibly
- Separating yard waste and food scraps can reduce garbage being sent to landfills by a third
- If you request a NYC trash can via 311, you can expect a response in six to seven business days
Maybe you've noticed the garbage cans in your neighborhood are always overflowing, or that there's no place to put trash. It might not seem like it’s your job to tidy up the sidewalk, but in a city as big as New York, sometimes you have to speak up to get attention, so consider requesting a new litter bin from New York City’s Department of Sanitation.
Want to do more? Consider ways to reduce the amount of trash you send to a landfill. According to DSNY’s website, a third of New Yorkers’ trash is composed of yard waste and food scraps—when food ends up in landfills, it creates methane, a potent greenhouse gas. More New Yorkers can now request a brown bin for organic waste collection by DSNY (more on this below).
And that's not all you can do to help the environment. Read on for greener ways to dispose of trash, recycling, and organic waste.
[Editor's note: A previous version of this article was published in November 2019. We are presenting it with updated information for November 2023.]
1) How to get a NYC garbage can
If you've found yourself walking for blocks in your neighborhood holding some garbage because there was no place to throw it out, you should know you have the ability to request a trash can from DSNY.
Keep in mind, the location request must be on a street corner of a commercial street or near a major transportation hub. DSNY does not place trash cans on streets that are predominantly residential or industrial, or in the middle of blocks.
If you request a NYC trash can via 311, you can expect a response in six to seven business days, says Dina Montes, press secretary at DSNY. If a trash can placement request is sent by letter or email, you can expect a response within 14 business days.
Another option is to volunteer for DSNY’s Adopt-a-Basket Program. This means you are deputized to monitor the cans and empty them when they are three-quarters full.
2) Discard your electronics
In NYC, throwing out your old iPhone, or any other electronic device along with the rest of your garbage is not only bad for the environment, it’s also illegal. You can take your non-operable electronics from any brand to an Apple Store, and they’ll responsibly dispose of it for free.
You can also enroll in ecycleNYC, which enables buildings with 10 or more units recycle household items such as computers, cell phones, printers, and for the retro among us, DSNY will also pick up VCRs and MP3 players.
DSNY used to offer a curbside pickup program in Staten Island, but it was permanently suspended in 2023 after a pandemic hiatus, with DSNY picking up the last batch of discarded electronics on Oct. 27th, the Staten Island Advance reported.
3) Request a organics collection bin
Sorting organic waste for collection will become mandatory in 2025, so you may want to get on board now and get used to putting your veggie scraps out for pick up. DSNY empties the brown bins at the curb and turns your food scraps and yard cuttings into compost for use in city parks and community gardens.
The organics collection program is available to all Brooklyn and Queens residents, and will be available to the Bronx, Manhattan and Staten Island in 2024. A handful of community boards in the Bronx, and Manhattan currently have access to the program as well.
You can use a brown bin from the city—available at local giveaway events—or your own, as long as it has a lid and is under 55 gallons. If you want, you can decorate it with a free decal from the city.
Buildings who don’t sort scraps for compost after spring of 2025 will face fines ranging from $25 to $400 for larger buildings with multiple offenses.
Here’s a tip: If you have room in your fridge or freezer, that’s a good place to store scraps until you’re ready to put them out for collection. Chilling your organic waste eliminates odor and makes it easy to pop into the bin.
“Some residents use compost bags or brown paper bags to collect food scraps in the kitchen. For residents who do not yet have access to curbside service, we have more than 150 food scrap drop-off sites across the five boroughs,” Montes says.
4) Get rid of large items like mattresses
When it comes to disposing of large items like old mattresses, you have to do a little prep work. DSNY will pick up non-recyclable objects larger than four-by-three feet, but you have to make a request.
You can ask for a pick up on DSNY’s website up to a month in advance—DSNY makes collections Monday through Saturday right from your curb. There is a little work to be done on your end, mattresses and box springs, for example, must be sealed in plastic bags to prevent the spread of bed bugs—you’ll face a $100 fine if you don’t do this. When it comes to carpeting, rugs and lumbers, you must tie these together in bundles.
5) Dispose of appliances with CFCs
Chlorofluorocarbons are gasses that can be found in appliances such as refrigerators, freezers, water coolers, dehumidifiers, and air conditioners. The gas can cause frostbite if you come into contact with a leak, and if exposed to high temperatures, can turn toxic. DSNY will pick up any of your old appliances containing CFCs.
There’s a little work to be done with this service request: You have to schedule a DSNY representative to come and remove the CFCs from the appliance first and tag the appliance for pick up. These appointments can be done by calling 311.
6) Smashing pumpkins, leaf collections and Christmas trees
DSNY also hosts events throughout the year for New Yorkers to get rid of seasonal and household waste—and have a little fun doing so.
There’s the annual pumpkin smash (DSNY turns the pumpkin guts into compost). Other programs include a fall leaf collection program, Christmas Tree collection, SAFE Disposal Events, and Compost Giveback Events.
[Editor's note: A previous version of this article included reporting by Austin Havens-Bowen.]
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