I live in downtown New York City, one block west of City Hall. My office is approximately 2 1/2 blocks north of City Hall. I point this out, because many demonstrations are held right outside City Hall with loud speakers for the protesters to announce their protests so everyone can hear them within a half-mile radius, they march or gather for blocks.
During these demonstrations, it is common to have a strong police presence lining the streets for safety. Now an additional safety precaution has been implemented since the Boston Marathon bombing, removal of all curbside garbage cans by sanitation.
If you have never been in New York, it is a city of high-rise office and apartment buildings in most areas. As much as New Yorkers understand the importance of recycling, it is hard to recycle in a large apartment building or office building that do not provide separation recycling bins. Even the curbside separation recycling bins are far and in-between. Although I found a set of garbage, bottles and cans only, and newspapers and magazines only recycling bins outside City Hall and across the street there were two solar powered Big Belly compactors. I guess City Hall politicians were setting an example, but so far they have not provided these bins throughout the city.
In my office we have water in bottles and soda in cans. When we finish the drink we put them in separate bins for recycling. When the bins are full we recycle and help the homeless at the same time by filling two large shopping bags with the cans and bottles, leaving them for the collectors of these bottles and cans next to a curb side garbage can. These collectors are usually older, short in stature with a hunch, Asian woman who sift through bags of garbage in every block filling large clear plastic bags with bottles and cans carrying them over their shoulder on a broom handle with a bag as large as they filled each end or filled shopping carts with the same size bags.
They do this for nickel redemption on each returnable.
The strange thing is if you offer them money they won’t take it and consider it an insult.
On July 3, I left my office with two large shopping bags filled with bottles and cans. When I got downstairs there were no garbage cans in sight, because of labor demonstration at City Hall. I walked down until I got to my block where I finally saw a garbage can across the street. Next to the garbage can where two sanitation workers and a sanitation inspector talking, I asked if it would be OK if I left these bags for the Asian woman.
His reply: “You know that is illegal dumping and if he,” pointing to the inspector, “wanted to, he could arrest you.”
I put them next to the garbage can anyway.
Besides reminding me that it was illegal dumping (it does state on each curbside garbage container “Liter Only: No Household Trash; No Business Trash, 100 Dollar Fine”) he reminded me how much he hated those Asian woman, this was not a prejudice remark, but a complaint that the Asian woman caused them extra work, messing up the waste bags for sanitation to clean-up.
That afternoon my son and I were going to a movie. I walked across the street where I live to get my son. When I walked back across the street, I found that the sanitation workers where gone and so where the bags of bottles and cans, but no Asian woman were in sight. I guess I wasn’t arrested or fined, because the bottles and cans provided coffee money for those sanitation workers.
This incident set-off my curiosity and sent me on a quest to better understand garbage and recycling in New York City. So I started to walk through the neighborhood to see how much illegal dumping went on, quite a bit.
I also found a number of curbside garbage cans with white trash bags next to them with the words ACE Empowering the Homeless. ACE stands for The Association of Community Employment Programs for the Homeless. This program helps people who are either in a rehabilitation program and have a doctor’s clearance to work or are homeless. ACE people are street sweepers who use these ACE bags for trash; when full, place them next to a curbside garbage container. After speaking with one of the ACE workers who was happy to have the job, I realized ACE made a great contribution to trash clean-up and to human dignity. The ACE person reminded me that ACE takes donations.
Back to the Asian woman, in my travels I spotted an Asian woman working on a pile of clear recyclable bags that was five feet high and a half of block long. Mind you these bags are only supposed to contain newspapers and small cardboard items, bottles or cans are supposed to be in separate clear plastic bags.
This woman worked efficiently, precisely, carefully and extremely quickly, untying the bags picking out the bottles and cans and neatly tying the bags back up. When I left she had four large bags, three and a half feet tall filled to the brim and was only a quarter of the way through the pile.
The way I see it, these women are doing the city a great service by supporting themselves; not taking welfare; supporting New York’s recycling program by lessening the waste burden for the sanitation workers, who had coffee on me.