6 ways NYC can help you recycle, compost, and throw out trash more responsibly

By Austin Havens-Bowen | November 12, 2019 - 9:00AM 

If the trash cans in your neighborhood are always overflowing, or non-existent, you can request one from DSNY, or join their Adopt-a-Basket program.


Maybe you've noticed the garbage cans in your neighborhood are always overflowing, or that there's no place to put trash. If so, consider requesting a new litter bin from New York City’s Department of Sanitation.

Want to do more? You can also reduce the amount of trash you produce in your own home or send to a landfill. According to DSNY’s website, a third of New Yorkers’ trash is yard waste and food scraps. You can request a compost bin for this organic waste, which DSNY will collect, and reduce your garbage output by a third—and need fewer plastic garbage bags.

And that's not all you can do to help the environment. Read on for how you can deal with your trash, recycling, and organic waste.

1) How to get a 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 litter basket from the 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 litter baskets on streets that are predominantly residential or industrial, or in the middle of blocks.

If you make a litter basket placement request via 311, you can expect a response in six to seven business days, says Dina Montes, press secretary at DSNY. If a litter bin 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 essentially 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. 

But if you don’t want to schlep your old computer to an Apple Store, you can request a curbside pickup from DSNY. After you make the appointment, you leave the electronic garbage at the curb after 4 p.m. the night before.

Currently, the service is only available to residents of Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx who live in buildings with one to nine units. Buildings with 10 or more units must enroll in ecycleNYC

3) Request a compost bin

You may have seen the city's tall, brown bins in your neighborhood's front yards and wondered what they are for. They are used to collect organic waste, however, it is not a mandatory program like glass or metal recycling. DSNY empties your brown bin at the curb and takes your food scraps and yard cuttings and turns it into compost for use in city parks and community gardens.

Since the program began in 2013, DSNY had distributed more than half a million brown bins. The organics curbside program is relatively new—it started as a small pilot program in Staten Island, says Montes. 

If you live in Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, and the Bronx (outside of South Bronx), DSNY will deliver free organics bins to buildings with nine or fewer units. For residents in Manhattan, South Bronx, and those who live in larger apartment buildings, with 10 or more units, you can apply for DSNY’s curbside Organics Collection Service with building management approval. 

To make saving your organic waste easier, buildings with 10-100 units can request small kitchen container bins to make scrap collection easier. (Pro tip: If you have room in your freezer, storing scraps in the freezer until you're ready to discard them eliminates odors.) 

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,” says Montes.

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 gases that can be found in appliances such as refrigerators, freezers, water coolers, dehumidifiers, and air conditioners. The gas can cause frostbite if the leak and you come into contact with them, 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.


Austin Havens-Bowen

Staff Writer

Austin Havens-Bowen covers the rental market. He previously reported on local news for the Queens Ledger and The Hunts Point Express in the Bronx. He graduated from Hunter College with a BA in media studies. 


Brick Underground articles occasionally include the expertise of, or information about, advertising partners when relevant to the story. We will never promote an advertiser's product without making the relationship clear to our readers.