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May 14, 2024 50 mins

Taking care of 12,000 tons of residential trash every day is a hard job. But how does that even work? Listen in to marvel at the NYC sanitation system.

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Speaker 1 (00:00):
Hey, everyone, do you live in Washington, DC? Are you
sitting around fretting about this upcoming election? Maybe you're even
working on one of these campaigns. Well, we've got a
great stress reliever for you, and that's coming out to
see us on May thirtieth at the Warner Theater for
Stuff you Should Know Live.

Speaker 2 (00:17):
Yeah, we guarantee zero political jokes, one percent zero political
jokes if you come out and see us. We're gonna
be in Medford, mass on May twenty ninth. The next night,
we'll be in DC on May thirtieth, and then the
night after that we'll be at our old friend, the
Town Hall in Manhattan Town, NYC.

Speaker 1 (00:34):
That's right, So check out tickets. You can go to
stuff youshould Know dot com, you can go to the
theater websites themselves, avoid those secondary ticket brokers, or check
out our link tree, right Josh.

Speaker 2 (00:44):
Yeah, link tree sysk Lot.

Speaker 3 (00:50):
Welcome to Stuff you Should Know, a production of iHeartRadio.

Speaker 2 (01:00):
You and welcome to the podcast. I'm Josh and there's
Chuck and Jerry's here too, and it's just the three
of us, Oscar the Grouch in it here on Stuff
you Should Know.

Speaker 1 (01:11):
Yeah, I think this I think there may be one
more in this sort of semi suite that we've been
tackling over the years, which is to say, the the
operations of New York City.

Speaker 2 (01:23):
It's fascinating stuff.

Speaker 1 (01:25):
I love it because every time I'm there, I'm like, yeah,
how do they deal with all this trash and deliver
all that mail? So if mail is interesting enough, well,
I'm gonna do a little research and see if New
York City mail is worth its own deal.

Speaker 2 (01:39):
Okay, we did one on the USPS before.

Speaker 1 (01:44):
Oh, sure, that was as done stuff on landfills and
all kinds of things. But New York City is very
specific to its own self.

Speaker 2 (01:52):
Yeah, as they say, living it up between the Moon
and New York City. I can't remember the rest living
it up.

Speaker 3 (02:00):
Yeah, and then he says, no, I like, it's if
you get caught, But I like, I like.

Speaker 2 (02:10):
Living it up better too. All Right, so we're talking
New York City trash, Chuck. I didn't ever really give
much thought to it. I've been in New York plenty
of times and have been like, wow, there's a lot
of trash everywhere all the time, some of it in bags,
some of it on the street, some of it in
overflowing trash containers. But it turns out that it is

an enormous issue and has been an ongoing and very
long standing issue in New York. And they now have
a mayor and a sanitation commissioner who's like, enough, it's done.
We're cleaning the city up once and for all. And
what's yeah, Eric Adams, he's got a whole like, his
whole campaign is called get Stuff Done, and the the

trash branch of that is get Stuff Clean. And just Katish,
the new garbage commissioner is from one of the wealthiest
families in America, possibly the world. Oh wow, who's decided
to dedicate her career to civil service, specifically in New York.
So she's worked in a few agencies and now she's
the head of the Sanitation Department the dsn Y and

is basically just like steamrolling through with new changes and
just being like, oh, I don't care. That's the way
you used to do it. Apparently it's wrong because it
didn't get it done. We're doing it this way now.
So they're actually making huge enormous changes by leaps and
bounds that seem like they actually possibly could clean New
York up in the next couple of years.

Speaker 1 (03:42):
Do you know what how the Tish family, what their deal.

Speaker 2 (03:46):
Is, what the what their deal is like, how they
communicate Thanksgiving?

Speaker 1 (03:51):
Well name, he said, one of the wealthiest families in
the world.

Speaker 2 (03:54):
I was kind of curious, Oh, I get what you mean.

Speaker 1 (03:56):
So what from or whatever?

Speaker 2 (03:58):
Her father is the CEO of like the Loew's theaters,
the Loewe's hotels. Apparently they own a distilling brand like
the parent companies, the CEO of the parent company. But
I have a feeling like her family is like legacy wealthy.
That's my impression.

Speaker 1 (04:18):
Yeah, New York NYU has the Tish School of Arts,
but I'm sure it's the same family.

Speaker 2 (04:23):
Yes it is. As a matter of fact, there's a
really interesting profile on her and the New York Sanitation
Department in the New Yorker of all places, and they
rattled off like three different things that are named after
her family. So, yes, they've been around for a while.
But apparently it's pretty cool. She's like, I'm incredibly wealthy,

but I'm going to go, you know, work my way
up in New York bureaucracy.

Speaker 1 (04:47):
You know, it's really pretty incredible. So should we go
back in time.

Speaker 2 (04:52):
Yeah, let's yeah.

Speaker 1 (04:54):
We've talked before about what old New York was like,
and when you see movies about old New York, they
you know, they might grunge it up a little bit,
like Scorsese's Gangs of New York probably did one of
the closest, truest depictions of early New York and just
kind of how disgusting it could be. And we've talked
about the amounts of manure from horses on the sides

of the street, but it was really really gross. New
York was a disgusting place back in the day. They
did have a law, and this show's kind of got it,
has kind of got it all. It's got like amazing
facts of the episode. Right off the bat. We have
a great album title, which was this law from the
sixteen fifties that banned tubs of odor and nastiness. If

that's not like a stooge's album title or something, I
don't know what is, but it was gross. I think
the first fact of the podcast for me is that
about twenty percent of Manhattan, or really the whole metro
area is built on land that didn't used to be there.

It's literally land that came from garbage, bill from construction debris,
dirt from the subway project. Like Lower Manhattan in particular,
just kept growing and expanding in size. And here's another
fun fact on that Ellis Island is twenty eight acres

now it started out as three acres. Oh wow, It's
was literally built from I guess just waste.

Speaker 2 (06:29):
Yeah, because I mean, if you think about it, if
you just go dump one load off of an island,
you you've just littered. But if you keep doing it,
you're developing the land.

Speaker 1 (06:40):
It becomes art.

Speaker 2 (06:40):
Yeah, it's got to stick with it, and eventually it
becomes an okay thing. Right.

Speaker 1 (06:45):
Yeah, It's really pretty incredible to think about that when
there are overlays that show, like, you know, how Manhattan,
Lower Manhattan grew just from dumping stone.

Speaker 2 (06:55):
Oh yeah, oh, but there's pretty cool maps like that.
I love that kind of stuff too, Like I love
walk looking around and being like, what was this building originally?
You know what used to be here? I asked that
out loud.

Speaker 1 (07:06):
Sometimes, right, just the building never answers that.

Speaker 2 (07:09):
No. So this is not the first time, under Eric
Adams and Jessica Tish that a New York administrator has
tried to clean the city up. Plenty have tried, but
the last truly successful one was in the century before
last a Civil War. I think colonel a Union colonel
named George Waring who became the head of the Department

of Street Cleaning, which is what the sanitation department was
called back then, and he cleaned up the city starting
around eighteen ninety five. But he was not the first
head of the Department of Street Cleaning. That department was
almost twenty years old by the time he came along.
But it had just basically been a place where Tammany
Hall and the political machine gave jobs to supporters, political supporters,

and it was like, you don't need to show up
to work, You're still going to get a paycheck kind
of thing.

Speaker 1 (08:03):
Yeah. I mean, they either did that or they outright
just stole money that was allocated for those cleaning up
projects to begin with. I saw a name back then
in the eighteen hundreds that the sledge of just manure
and garbage and cess sess a thing.

Speaker 2 (08:22):
I guess cess is the best.

Speaker 1 (08:28):
Pol I know it says pools that they is sess
the thing in the pool.

Speaker 2 (08:31):
I would think so, all right, anyway.

Speaker 1 (08:34):
They called the sledge that lined the streets corporate pudding
no gross, because I guess it was just you know,
it wasn't getting cleaned up because all that money, like
I said, was either stolen or reallocated and to cronies.
There's someone named Robin Nagel who's an NYU professor who
it's an unpaid position but has basically worked as the

unsanctioned unsalary anthropologists from for the Sanitation Department of New
York and just has an incredible amount of knowledge about
the stuff.

Speaker 2 (09:08):
Yeah, we've talked about Robin Nagel before, and George Waring
and the changes he made so supposedly you can look
at Harper's Magazine between eighteen ninety three and eighteen ninety five,
and it's like it's like George Waring came along and
waived a magic wand like the difference is so distinct.
Like he created kind of like a military type institution hierarchy.

He outfitted as people with white outfits designed by John
Paul Gautier and pith helmets, and they went around and
they cleaned up New York. And apparently they throw parades
for him once in a while because they were just
so successful and loved and revered because they did such
a good job. But you can see the difference between

these photos and Harper's Weekly that Robin Nagel had. And
I think we talked about all this in the Typhoid
Mary episode. I think it was in the beginning.

Speaker 1 (10:07):
Of that one, that makes sense.

Speaker 2 (10:08):
I'm pretty sure that's where it was.

Speaker 1 (10:10):
Yeah, I imagine George Wern came in on day one.
It was like, for starters, how about you get that
dead hog off the side of the road.

Speaker 2 (10:19):
Somebody's like, she did it.

Speaker 1 (10:22):
He was famous, by the way for designing the Memphis
sewage system after the Civil War. Before New York. They're like, hey,
he did such a good job, you know, working out
the or sewage. I guess in Memphis. Come on to
New York because we have sewage in the streets.

Speaker 2 (10:37):
Nice. He worked his way up. Yeah, if you could
make it in New York sanitation, you can make it
anywhere with sanitation, believe me.

Speaker 1 (10:47):
So as things were going, they had landfills that came along, obviously,
but a lot of the trash was handled by incinerators.
Still is just great controversy, as we'll get to later,
but a lot of these smaller apartment buildings had their
own incinerators. They would just burn their trash. The city

was like, this is an air quality nightmare, imagine, So
let's ban these things. And I thought it said eighteen
eighty nine, but they were banned finally in nineteen eighty nine.

Speaker 2 (11:19):
Yeah, that tracks. I mean, it wasn't until the nineties
that New York really started to kind of turn around some.

Speaker 1 (11:26):
No, that's true.

Speaker 2 (11:27):
So one of the other things they did, aside from
banning individual buildings having incinerators, which just seems like madness
in retrospect, you know what I mean, kind of does. Yeah,
they also started slowly shutting down the landfills that were
within the city limits, and finally the last one, Fresh

Kills on Staten Island, was famously shut down in two
thousand and one, and the one of the reasons it
became famous is it was the landfill that accepted a
lot of the waste from the Twin Towers after the
World Trade Center attacks, and that was it. It's kind
of like kind of fitting, you know what I mean,
in a really weird, bittersweet, poetic way.

Speaker 1 (12:09):
Yeah, like a turning of the page, I guess.

Speaker 2 (12:11):
So, yeah, but that was it. So the thing is
is New York still has tons of trash that they
accumulate every day. I mean, just as we'll see a
mind boggling amount of trash is generated by New York
every day and they have trouble getting it off the street.
But then also they're starting to find like we are
having problems identifying where to send this trash.

Speaker 1 (12:34):
Yeah, for sure. So getting back to wearing, back then,
he was like, all right, we gotta we got to
figure out a way to get this trash. Like people
just throw it in the street, and Wearing is like
that that's not a good system. I don't know if
anyone's noticed, but just throwing your trash out of your
literally out of your windows sometimes of your apartment isn't

the way to go about things if we want to
live a healthy life as a city. And so so
why don't we get trash cans? You mentioned Oscar the Grouch.
They were just sort of the standard metal Oscar the
Grouch cans for a long long time until nineteen sixty
eight when there was a sanitation strike that was only
nine days long. But it doesn't take long for a

sanitation strike to really I guess, get a little steam
not New York, a little steam going, because there were
one hundred thousand tons of garbage on the city streets
by the end of that nine days, and it was
just a mess. So they said, all right, how about this.
These trash cans were working for a long time, but

you're just dumping your trash right in these cans. Why
don't you put it in trash bags inside the can,
And very sweetly, they thought that that might help the
rat situation, like contain the smell enough where rats wouldn't
get to it, which is kind of cooky to think about. Course, rats,
we'll get to trash anywhere. And it was better than

you know, lifting up these heavy trash cans, because they
could just pick the bags out of the trash cans
and throw them in. And then finally, just a few
years later in seventy one, they said, let's just get
rid of these cans and just put it in bags
and put it out on the sidewalk.

Speaker 2 (14:12):
Yeah, that's one of the greatest, most important cities in
the world. Just leave our trash laying around in bags
for hours on end, multiple times a week, every week.
Let's do that instead, because you can stick them anywhere.
They'll fit anywhere. Yeah, and that's one of the challenges
that New York has is it lacks a lot of
the alleys and a lot of the little side well

alleys I think is good enough to where people in
other cities store trash cans and trash bins like seeing people.
So instead they have to use these trash bags and
basically tuck them wherever they can kind of out of
the way, and very frequently not out of the way.
You have to walk around them on the sidewalk pretty
often too. So that is that's the state of New

York trash collection.

Speaker 4 (14:59):

Speaker 2 (14:59):
People leave their trash out and bags on the sidewalk.
The sanitation department workers come along and pick up the
bags and throw them in the trash manually, throw them
in the garbage trucks manually. And this is staggeringly behind
the times, Like garbage technology has advanced by leaps and
bounds since then, in New York just because of some

of its unique characteristics and traits, has had a really
hard time implementing them like other cities have.

Speaker 1 (15:28):
Yeah. Absolutely, but like you said, there's good news on
the horizon. You want to take a break now, yeah,
all right, we'll take a break, good little setup, and
we'll come back and talk about just how much trash
there is right after this. All right, so we promised

talk of just how much trash New Yorkers produce. I
don't think, like per person, they're creating an exceptional amount
of trash. Not picking on New Yorkers. Sure, there's just
a lot of people there, eight hundred thousand, more than
eight hundred thousand residential apartment buildings, and they produce about
four and a half million tons of just residential trash

every year, So twenty four million pounds a day, or
about twelve thousand tons per day of just residential people
trash from apartments.

Speaker 2 (16:38):
Yeah, so every day they generate an equivalent weight of
trash to fifty million, five hundred and twenty six thousand,
three hundred and sixteen big macs.

Speaker 1 (16:49):
I knew something like that was coming.

Speaker 2 (16:51):
That's a lot of big max. Imagine all of that
being produced every day.

Speaker 1 (16:55):
Is that netweight after cooking?

Speaker 2 (16:57):
Sorry, that's yes, that's the completed weight. That's what you
get when they put it on the tray.

Speaker 1 (17:02):
Okay, gotcha.

Speaker 2 (17:03):
And what's interesting is eating either one has about the
same impact on your health. Uh, that's good, thank you.

Speaker 1 (17:12):
It's mourning for us, which is unusual. So I'm a
little slower, yeah, and a little little less giving with
my laugh count.

Speaker 2 (17:19):
As long as I'm getting a little bit of it,
A little bit goes a long way.

Speaker 1 (17:22):
You've had plenty. You got me right off the bat
there with the what was that first.

Speaker 2 (17:25):
Joke that really got me the Oscar the grouch one?

Speaker 1 (17:28):
No, that was okay though, Oh.

Speaker 2 (17:30):
The mistaken living it up in New York City.

Speaker 1 (17:34):
Yeah, yeah, yeah, that got me going right off the bat.
So you would not be surprised to learn, h dear
listener that the ds n Y, which is the New
York City's sanitation department, is the largest in the country.
One reason is obviously because there are so many people
in so much trash, but also New York is a

little bit unique among large cities and that they are
responsible or more trash than other large cities are.

Speaker 2 (18:03):
Yeah right, Yeah, a lot of other cities. They still
handle some like maybe houses or something on the outskirts
of town or in neighborhoods, but you know, the apartment
buildings and commercial stuff, all that's handled by private companies.
And then in other cities, that's all private companies these
days in some cases too, especially suburbs. But yeah, with

New York, they're like, nope, we're going to handle it.
If you're a resident, we're going to take care of your.

Speaker 1 (18:28):
Trash, that's right. And as we'll see they on the
private side, they handle the commercial trash that's coming up shortly,
but as far as the residential stuff goes, they collect
from each residential building two or three times a week.
There are fifty nine different districts that cover New York,
each having its own garage that house more than two

thousand collection trucks over those fifty nine districts.

Speaker 2 (18:54):
Yeah, and that's just the collection trucks. They have other
kinds of trucks too.

Speaker 1 (18:58):
Yeah, I saw that. I was trying to find out
about maintenance of these things. But collectively, the just the
garbage trucks of New York drive about four and a
half million miles a year.

Speaker 2 (19:08):
That's crazy.

Speaker 1 (19:10):
Yeah, it's a lot of miles.

Speaker 2 (19:11):
So yeah, they have all sorts of different trucks. This
is where the part of me who was once a
little boy who loved looking at picture books of like
Caterpillar earth movers and those giant Volvo dump trucks really
kind of came back to the surface. But they've got
some dual bin models and if you look at them,
they basically do what it says on the tin. There's
half divided into half for trash and the other half

for a recycling so you can pick up both on
the same day at the same time. Yeah, they have
top loaders that you know, go up to like a
dumpster and just pick it up and shake it like
an enemy you might on the street who weighed much
less than you, all right, And then they also have
just the regular kind that are called the white elephants,

and those are just so incredibly massive. Each of the
New York City regular single bin garbage trucks can hold
twelve tons of waste.

Speaker 1 (20:09):
That's incredible.

Speaker 2 (20:10):
A full size American standard school bus weighs fourteen tons,
so they fit almost a school bus weight of trash
in just one single truck at a time.

Speaker 1 (20:23):
How many big backs is it?

Speaker 2 (20:25):
I didn't do that one.

Speaker 1 (20:26):
Okay. This is the other fact of the podcast for
me is that every garbage truck in New York has
two sets of steering wheels and pedals on both sides,
So either person can drive and no matter who's driving,
each brake pedal is live. So if someone doesn't see

somebody and the person that's not driving see someone, you know,
dart in front of the garbage truck, they can hit
the brakes as well.

Speaker 2 (20:51):
Yep, it's a good idea. They also have street sweepers
aka mechanical brooms, and I should say I've seen those
are starting to be rolled out in electric versions, but
apparently they're trying to slowly electrify their entire fleet. It
seems like street sweepers were one of the first to
be electrified. Salt spreaders, snowplows, front end loaders, basically everything

you could possibly need to clean up and clear trash.
The New York City Department of Sanitation has.

Speaker 1 (21:21):
It, yeah, for sure. And if you're like, well, why
do they have snowplows and all that kind of stuff,
is because besides trash and recycling and composting, which there
is sort of a newer program, and it came about
because it's a big problem. I think about twenty percent
of New York City's garbage's food waste. Man, they can

really really cut down on that with a good composting system.
In the city, but they're working on that. We'll get
to that later. But they have to clean vacant lots.
They're the ones who remove the snow. Here's another fun fact.
If there's a car on the street that has the
license plates torn off of it and someone has just
dumped it and it's worth under twelve hundred and fifty dollars,

the police say, that's a garbage car. It's not our responsibility,
so it's the DSNY has to take care of it.

Speaker 2 (22:15):
Yeah. So I looked up a little bit on that
and I couldn't find how they make that assessment of
how much the thing is.

Speaker 1 (22:22):
Worth Kelly Bluebook.

Speaker 2 (22:25):
I guess I would think just by virtue of having
the license plate removed and it being abandoned on the
street would indicate that it was worth less than twelve
hundred and fifty dollars.

Speaker 1 (22:33):
You know, usually the fifty dollars is what kills me,
like that's where they landed instead of just twelve or
thirteen hundred. Yeah, hey, I guess it was a formula.

Speaker 2 (22:44):
Similarly, they also clean up abandoned bikes that are like
chained to public property if the bike can just no
longer be ridden because it's so bent or it's missing
some essential parts, they will take care of it. They'll
clip that chain and throw the whole thing away. But
if you have a bike that you want to get
rid of, you don't have to abandon it in New
York City. You can take the wheels off, put them

in with your trash, and then you can put the
bike itself out with your recycling.

Speaker 1 (23:10):
Oh very nice.

Speaker 2 (23:11):
Yeah, I thought so too.

Speaker 1 (23:13):
And as if that wasn't enough last year in twenty
twenty three, Eric Adams, the mayor, said all right, you
also now have to regulate and enforce street vendors. You
got to clean up the highways and take care of
the graffiti in New York. And I'm sure they were like, great,
it's not like we didn't have enough to do already.

Speaker 2 (23:32):
Well, what's interesting is that's creating a lot of grumbling
because there's a lot of jobs from other agencies that
are just being taken.

Speaker 1 (23:39):
Oh, I'm sure.

Speaker 2 (23:40):
And the justification is like, hey, you're doing other stuff.
You have other stuff to focus on, so this part
has become kind of low priority. So it makes sense
the Department of Sanitation would clean up graffiti. We're cleaning
up the whole city. And apparently there was a backlog
of one thousand requests for graffiti removal. They cleared eight
hundred of them in one month. So they're doing work there.

Speaker 1 (24:01):
That's awesome. I mean, I like good graffiti, like graffiti art.

Speaker 2 (24:05):
Yes, So if you're a resident of New York, you
put in a request for graffiti removal. You can also
request that graffiti be left alone. And there's like this
whole procedure and process, but they give you like a
certain amount of time between the time you say I
want this graffiti removed and then the time they come out,
I guess, to give you a chance to really think

about whether you want it removed or not, and then
they'll remove it.

Speaker 1 (24:31):
Yeah, Like do you want the vulgar tag just spray
painted across the front of a business removed? Or is
it art?

Speaker 2 (24:39):
Exactly depends on who did it.

Speaker 1 (24:41):
I guess. So eight thousand sanitation workers total, two thousand
other employees well eight yeah, so I guess that's ten
thousands total, but eight thousand actual, you know, sort of.
You know, bag slingers and cleaner uppers. They're known as
New York's Strong. They are ninety percent mail, right, now,

so props to that ninety percent, and really props to
that ten percent of these ladies that are getting in
there and getting their hands dirty, because it is tough, tough,
dangerous work.

Speaker 2 (25:16):
Yes. So one of the things, one of the reasons
that it's particularly dangerous for sanitation workers in New York
is again because they use bags. They're not in cans.
If you've not been to New York, just imagine bags
of trash just piled everywhere. The problem is when they're
grabbing them and throwing them in the truck, they're probably

trying to avoid garbage juice, which is a very distracting thing.
It's very gross. It's rarely harmful, but you don't want
it on you, but it can distract you from things
that can harm you, like some rusty, sharp thing poking
out of the bag that you put your hand on.
There's a lot of hazards. Sometimes the stuff that's in
there could pose a hazard to you in other ways,

like garbage juice. There's an article I found from nineteen
ninety six where sanitation worker named Michael Hanley died because
some jerk threw hydrofluoric acid away in with the regular
garbage and when it was compressed in the hopper, it
exploded and Hanley inhaled it and died basically on the spot.

Speaker 1 (26:19):
Yeah, I mean that's the thing that happens when that hopper,
you know, squishes all that stuff down, there's gonna be
stuff that sprays out. They you know, try to get
out of the way, but sometimes they can't. And Olivia
found this another fun little factoid here that apparently enough
of that garbage juice is coffee related that whatever season

it is, if it's like pumpkin, spiceason and whatever, the
sanitation workers just like it's like, oh God, here comes
the pumpkin this you know, this fall.

Speaker 2 (26:50):
Yeah, I can imagine that just gets really old, really fast,
you imagine, Yeah, because it's the worst version of that coffee.
It's not hot and fresh and in the it's cold
and runny and mixed with other stuff and leaking out
of a garbage bag.

Speaker 1 (27:04):
Like hydrofluoric acid.

Speaker 2 (27:07):
So there's also it's also just hard, Like a lot
of this stuff is very heavy. You can fit a
lot of stuff into a trash bag, and apparently residential
places with compactors use what are called sausage bags where
you can fit multiple compacted rounds of trash into one
single bag. You need two people to toss those in,
and then the cans. They're also in charge of the cans,

right Like I think those little very famous kind of
mesh wire New York City trash cans that open like
a door, I think at the base. Yeah, am I
making sense here?

Speaker 1 (27:41):
Sort of just streak winner trash cans.

Speaker 2 (27:44):
Let's just call them that.

Speaker 1 (27:47):
Those weigh thirty pounds empty. So I've never seen a
New York City trash can that wasn't absolutely overflowing. So
that's a lot more weight, and they're doing that by hand.
Some of these routes can have as many a four
hundred of yay.

Speaker 2 (28:00):
So that's so crazy.

Speaker 1 (28:02):
I just really really really hard strenuous labor.

Speaker 2 (28:05):
You also, so you said that there's never a New
York City corner of trash can that is empty. So
I found a study from nineteen eighty seven that estimated
that a sixty pound can so a trash can with
about thirty pounds of waste. You can imagine that's probably
pretty average. To lift it the forty inches into the
hopper and dump it requires three and a half horse

power from the sanitation worker, and then, like you said,
there might be four hundred of those on a route.
I just can't imagine how just tired you would be
at the end of.

Speaker 1 (28:36):
This well and all this stuff you're breathing in too,
especially if you're a street sweeper. All kinds of you know,
sort of respiratory issues can pop up before COVID, you know,
before people are like, hey, maybe we should wear masks
and sanitize things. Thousands of New York City workers got
sick during the early COVID days. Nine of them died.

About one hundred sanitation workers died from illnesses cleaning up
Ground zero. So it is a you know, not only
is it a strenuous job and can be dangerous because
of you know, sharp and rusty things, but it's just
it's just hard on your body period. Right.

Speaker 2 (29:17):
Fortunately they have a really good union. They're are members
of Teamster's Local eight thirty one, the Uniform Sanitation Men's Association,
and thanks to the union, they when you are an
entry level sanitation worker, you start out making forty three thousand,
three hundred and five dollars a year, not great, which
is no especially in New York. It's hard to live

on that but if you stick with it for five
and a half years, it more than doubles to eighty
eighty nine hundred and seventy nine.

Speaker 1 (29:45):
That's pretty great.

Speaker 2 (29:46):
Yeah, And once you reach that point, there are plenty
of New York City sanitation workers that are making one
hundred thousand dollars or over from all of the extra
pay that can come from bonus work, like they get
triple overtime for snow removal and stuff like that. So
you can make a pretty good middle class income for
New York City as a sanitation worker just from sticking

with it for a few years. Plus Also, you can
retire in just over twenty years too, with full benefits.

Speaker 1 (30:14):
Yeah, I mean that's that's a big deal. You get
about eighteen days of vacation. But if you start in
your early twenties, you put in your twenty two years.
They don't have like an age thing where like you
have to work to a certain age. So if you
start in your early twenties, you could potentially retire with
your full pension in your early to mid forties. And

you know, you could do a lot worse than.

Speaker 2 (30:37):
That for sure, Yeah, because I mean you just you
can be like, well, I want to keep working, but
I'll go over here and take this other job, but
I'll still get paid for my old job because I retired.

Speaker 1 (30:47):
Exactly. You do have to pass a civil service exam.
You have to get your CDL, your commercial driver's license.
There's about a month of training and then you have
to you know, once you get that license. They have
a little practice area where they practice, like a little
obstacle course basically to you practice driving that garbage truck,

because you know, driving the New York is I find
it enjoyable and kind of fun and exciting, but driving
a garbage truck, imagine, is tough. There's stuff all over
the place and you can't just mad max it through there,
you know, No.

Speaker 2 (31:22):
You can't because people get killed like that. Because there's
a lot of people walking and running and riding bikes
around New York that you have to look out for.

Speaker 1 (31:30):
Yeah, increasingly distracted people, we should.

Speaker 4 (31:32):
Add, right.

Speaker 2 (31:34):
Yeah, So we said that they shut down all of
the landfills within New York's borders, but that means that
they have to ship this trash one way or another
outside of New York. Some of it gets diverted to incinerators.
They're like we don't want incinerators in New York because
it contributes to poor air quality, but we'll pay you
to burn it for us elsewhere. Fortunately, they've now converted

some of those incinerators to waste to energy plants, so
you're actually getting something out of burning the trash.

Speaker 1 (32:05):
As far as these waste of energy plants go. If
you're thinking, like, what do you mean they burn trash
and get something out of it, it's it basically works
just like coal would like any kind of energy creation
like that is just burning something to create steam to
spend that, you know, to boil water to create steam
to spin that turbine. And in this case, they just

burn trash instead of coal, right, which you think is like,
oh that's great. You know, we may maybe this should
be a whole episode at one point, but there there
are a lot of people say like, these are an
environmental nightmare. You are creating energy, but you're also creating
a landfill in the sky by what you're putting into
the air, So we might want to look into that

as a full one at some point.

Speaker 2 (32:47):
Remember we did our plasma waste generator episode, and that
thing was flawless in its design and execution, But I
don't think that's what they're using for these waste to
energy plants. I don't think so. So some of the
garbage just be diverted and incinerated, But from what I understand,
the vast majority is sent outside of New York to
landfills in places like Virginia or South Carolina or Ohio.

And the way that they get there predominantly is by
rail and by barge. And so New York set up
five what are called marine transfer stations that are amazing
if you look into Did you look into them at all,
because they're crazy awesome?

Speaker 1 (33:27):
I did, and they are crazy awesome. Yeah, those marine stations.
I think they built those that were about a twenty
year period starting in the early two thousands. There's five
of them. The neighborhoods you know where these were going
to be near, were obviously not too excited about them
when you know when they were first proposed. But apparently

they've done a pretty good job. As far as the
smell goes, They aren't too stinky. I think it's noise
more than anything, because you're you constantly just have trucks
going in and out of there, right, But they've done
a great job with deodorizing and venting this stuff. Even
have hawk calls being played on loudspeakers to keep seagulls

away because that would be a nightmare. Oh yeah, but
apparently they're not as bad as everyone thought they were
gonna be.

Speaker 2 (34:13):
No plus, Also, the neighborhoods that they're in are like
already kind of ports, and there's other industry nearby anyway,
And they set up essentially access roads so that when
the trucks start backing up, they're not on the street,
they're off of the street. And then the whole thing
is enclosed, right, So garbage truck goes into the building,

sealed shipping container comes out the other side, and inside
the building. Like you said, they've taken all these measures
to keep the smell down and just keep it from
being gross. But what happens is a garbage truck comes in,
backs up to the tipping station, tips its contents all
the way down to the next story down. Next story

down is just basically like that trash compactor in Star Wars,
the first one. It's essentially like that, but rather than
having like that pneumatic arm crush everything, they have front
loaders that basically push all the stuff into shipping containers,
and a shipping container can hold just over about two

full trucks worth of waste I think twenty five tons.
They top that thing off, seal it and say here
you go, waste management take over from here.

Speaker 1 (35:26):
Yeah, and you know you mentioned some of this goes
to different states. I saw that almost all of Manhattan's
trash goes to New Jersey. Oh nice, sorry, New Jersey, Virginia, Pennsylvania,
and Ohio is where most of the rest of it goes,
as far as landfills go. And then weirdly, Staten Island

trash goes to South Carolina.

Speaker 2 (35:49):
That is a little weird.

Speaker 1 (35:51):
I don't know why, but I guess they just, you know,
worked out an exchange program or something.

Speaker 2 (35:55):
Yeah, and I guess it's totally up to private companies.
Like I said, waste management's a good example of taking
possession of the shipping containers, stacking them up on barges.
I think you can fit like forty eight full on
a barge and taking an on a slow boat to
South Carolina, or taking it upriver to Niagara Falls. I
think that's where one of the incinerators is. Niagara, New

York yeah. And then also if it's somewhere like Ohio,
it's very tough to sail a barge to Ohio, so
you just take it to a rail station and the
shipping containers get shipped by rail to Ohio where it
gets dumped.

Speaker 1 (36:32):
All right, maybe all actually right, before we take a break,
let's cover this one more thing I think, which is
if you've lost something and you want to get it
back in the trash, it's probably not going to happen,
but it really depends on how good of a looker
you are, because what you'll do is is you'll call
up You'll say I lost a wedding ring in the garbage.

I'm pretty upset about this, and they say, oh great,
we have a program called the Lost Valuable Search. Just
come on down to the Marine transfer station. We'll work
with you to determine which truck is yours. And then
there's a huge pile of trash and you have ninety
minutes to go through and find it by yourself, and
or I guess, with whatever friends you are able to

talk into coming with you.

Speaker 2 (37:17):
And people have they found all sorts of stuff.

Speaker 1 (37:20):
Sure it happens, Yeah.

Speaker 2 (37:21):
It does happen. Apparently, Also there's people who are like, oh,
that's what I have to do. Just forget about it.
I'm good. Thanks anyway, Yeah, I'll get a new wedding ring.
So let's take a break and we'll come back and
talk about some of the shady business that goes on
in the private industry.

Speaker 4 (37:35):
All right, cool, okay, Chuck.

Speaker 2 (38:02):
So we said that the city picks up residential trash,
but for the most part, commercial trash like stores, office
buildings industry that's handled by private companies. And that's not
actually new. That goes all the way back to I
think the mid to late fifties, nineteen fifty seven, I
think when the city was like, hey, we could use

some help collecting trash. How about private companies get involved?
And the mafia sat up and said, yes, let's do that.
And apparently the Gambino and Genovese crime families were really
big into what's called karting. It's private trash collection. Yeah,
for decades it was extraordinarily corrupt, and finally in the nineties,

New York did something about it, got the crime families
out of the karting business. But the companies are like
no less shady than they were before, and they're just
shady in different ways. Whereas before they were screwing over
the customers, now they're screwing over the workers. Because back then,
at least they had they were mob run, but they

were in really good unions. And as these private companies
came along, they don't have very good unions. So I
saw somewhere that a worker at a private company today
makes less as a driver for a truck than a
helper made in nineteen eighty five. Wow, sixteen dollars an hour.

They make less than that nineteen eighty five to twenty sixteen.
Isn't that crazy? Yeah, that's what happens when you have
a union that's good, that goes away in favor of
union that's bad and that's in cahoots with the ownership,
or if there is no union at all, which is
in case some true wouldn't.

Speaker 1 (39:45):
Tony Soprano win sanitation?

Speaker 2 (39:47):
Or didn't he say he was, yes, he was in karting?

Speaker 1 (39:50):
Yeah, yeah, I remember that. I also remember when I
lived in New Jersey, the Italian. I'm not saying it
was a mafia truck because that would be wrong to
as but whoever picked up our trash had a big
Italian name on the side of the truck. And it
was during that time of the Sopranos where I was
kind of like, what's going on here?

Speaker 2 (40:10):
Oh, you know, what's going on there? But supposedly that
was after they cleaned things up, although that was Jersey huh,
So yeah, they probably didn't. That was probably mafia run well.

Speaker 1 (40:19):
And it was also mid nineties, so I think they
were just like, that's when they were cleaning it up.

Speaker 2 (40:23):

Speaker 1 (40:25):
So there are about two hundred and fifty private handlers
that are now overseen by the Business Integrity Commission, which
may as well be called the Don't let the Mafia
get Involved Commission And sometimes yeah, except exactly so you mentioned,
you know, just bad conditions in some of these private companies,

like very long work hours, maybe safety training maybe not,
maybe safety gear maybe not there. If you hear of
a story about a pedestrian that's killed in New York
by a garbage truck, chances are it's a private company.
Not always, but they're much much higher incidents of I

didn't say incidences. Somebody called us out on that.

Speaker 2 (41:10):
You remember that, Yeah, Yeah, it's what we're really progressing
here in year sixteen.

Speaker 1 (41:15):
Hey, we're trying to, but many more incidents from the
private companies, you know, running over somebody than the DSNY,
and largely because of training, but also because they're just
they're working too long, they're too tired, and they have
too much to do in general.

Speaker 2 (41:32):
Yeah, an investigative journalist named Kiara Feldman wrote an article
for Pro Public called Trashed, and I don't remember what
came after the colon, but it is. It's really eye opening.
I mean, even if you don't care about trash collection
or New York City, just the fact that people are
being treated this way is just nuts. Man. So it's

definitely worth a read if this episode piqued your interest
at all.

Speaker 1 (41:58):
Yeah, there's an African immigrant name uk Diallo. And I
don't think we mentioned that some of these private companies
will just like, you know, pick up the dude in
the parking lot that's looking for day work. So they're
not covered at all or insured or anything like that.
They'll just like, we'll pay you under the table to
like run out in front of the truck and get

bags out, you know, to where they can be collected easier.
And Muktar was one of these guys, and he was
crushed under a truck. And when it came time to
talk about this, the company said this, we do know
this guy. He just is a homeless guy that ran
out in front of the truck. And of course it
later came out what really happened. So in twenty nineteen,

a New York passed a law that said, all right,
we're dividing this into zones. Now there can be no
more than three companies picking up in each zone, just
trying to sort of rein in the chaos a little bit.
And you have to if you want to do this,
you have to sign a contract that meets certain standards
of safety and working conditions. And it's you know, it's
kind of being implemented now, so it is still currently

changing for the better.

Speaker 2 (43:05):
Yeah, and you mentioned all the miles that the DSNY
travels just on their routes every year, these commercial haulers
might be driving from what you know, one one spot
to many many blocks over to the next spot. Yeah,
and just wasting so much time and burning so much gas.
Whereas if it's like there's only three companies in this

one quadrant, they're going to be driving a lot around
a lot less. And they're also going to be burning
a lot more, a lot fewer fossil fuels and releasing
fewer emissions too, So it's all together a pretty good plan.
Of course, the companies are like, can't do that, Like
what about competition? But New York's not really listening apparently,
And that's what's happening right now. And that's just part

of another again, this larger push for reforming the whole
place under Eric Adams and Jessica Tish, and one of
the big ones is getting rid of the black bags
in favor of container like the same plastic bins that
you see in basically every other city in the world
in one way, shape or form or another. New York's
finally being like, we're going to get in on that.

Speaker 1 (44:10):
Are they black backs? I think they were blue?

Speaker 2 (44:14):
There's blue too, Okay, yeah, they have all different colors,
but there's definitely blue as well.

Speaker 1 (44:18):
Yes, okay, how was it? Sure? It's been a while,
but I just have a visual in my head of
like mountains of blue bags on trash Day. And if
you've never been to New York at all, or you
haven't been many times, you would probably be shocked to
come out on trash Day on a hot summer, rainy
trash day, because it's quite a sight and quite a smell.

But like you said, they're moving toward bins in just
a few months ago. In February of this year, they said,
all right, here's our new plan we're going to get.
If you've got a smaller apartment building, you're going to
have those little wheelie bins. Like almost every other city
in the United States, if you are in a really
big apartment building, it's basically a dumpster, but it's plastic,

but it's like a large container. You mentioned the fact
that there aren't a lot of alleys in New York.
It's kind of a movie trope when you've seen alley
scenes set in New York City, probably not being filmed
in New York because most of the buildings on a
block are just you know, crammed you right next to
each other. So these dumpsters have to go somewhere. And

they said, all right, we'll make them small enough to
fit in a parking spot. We'll lose one hundred and
fifty thousand parking spots all over the city, but we
have to do it, and it'll also help us reclaim
some of this sidewalk space that we're losing.

Speaker 2 (45:39):
Yeah, and apparently parking spots is one of the most
politically charged issues in all of New York politics.

Speaker 1 (45:45):
I'm sure.

Speaker 2 (45:46):
So that's really gutsy to be like one hundred and
fifty thousand parking spots are going away so we can
put these bins there. And it's not even across the board.
There's some blocks I read that are losing a quarter
of their parking spots.

Speaker 1 (45:59):
Oh, I'm sure.

Speaker 2 (46:00):
So it's definitely going to take an adjustment, for sure.
But there won't be bags of trash everywhere. They'll just
be like different colored bins that are on the street,
just off the sidewalk that a truck comes along and
picks up. That it doesn't require human hands to throw
bag after bag into the truck anymore.

Speaker 1 (46:18):
Boy, in New York City, the residents really have to
get on board with this to make that work.

Speaker 2 (46:23):
Well, they did a pilot study of it in Harlem
and this is back in September twenty twenty three, and
apparently it was extremely successful. Yeah, rat sightings were down
sixty eight percent.

Speaker 1 (46:35):
Where did they go?

Speaker 2 (46:37):
I don't know. I think they just kind of where
they disappear. They go poof into nothingness after they don't
eat for two days.

Speaker 1 (46:44):
Boy, that means they're organizing. This could get really scary.

Speaker 2 (46:47):
But supposedly they the people of Harlem were like, this
is this is cool. We can definitely deal with this.
So they're rolling it out to the rest of New York.

Speaker 4 (46:56):

Speaker 1 (46:56):
I think they will see the benefit to where people
get on board, because what real would really screw up
that system is that truck is going using the mechanics
to dump those cans, but then there's four or five
bags that wouldn't fit in the can just sitting there.
So you're still going to have to have some people
down there slinging bags.

Speaker 2 (47:14):
Definitely, for sure, but it should.

Speaker 1 (47:16):
Speed up the whole thing and clean it up if
everyone If everyone chips in.

Speaker 2 (47:20):
Yeah, and isn't that what living in New York is
all about. Everybody chipping in a little bit.

Speaker 1 (47:26):
For sure.

Speaker 2 (47:27):
You got anything else?

Speaker 1 (47:29):
No, just another mention of composting. They're getting that going
I mentioned earlier, still pretty new program. Since twenty percent
of that total waste dis food waste. If they really
got a pretty efficient composting system going, then it would
do a lot to reduce trash and do better things
for Mother Earth.

Speaker 2 (47:50):
So you did have something else I did. Well, if
you want to know more about New York trash collection,
go to New York and just walk around and you'll
find find out everything you need to know about it.
And while you're booking your flight, how about it's time
for listener, ma'am.

Speaker 1 (48:08):
I'm going to call this what is this? Oh Arson investigation?
Hey guys. In twenty nineteen, I moved to Saint Paul
with some friends from college. It's really fun. I made
many new friends in back. Two of my roommates I
had never met. One was a local rapper, the other
was a firefighter.

Speaker 2 (48:25):
EMT Saint Paul is the arson capital of the country.

Speaker 1 (48:28):
Is it really? It wouldn't surprise me. After listening to
this story, this guy said it was a glorious era
of my life, filled with healing, fun and young adulting.
Within a few months, I got a job at a
discount movie theater and I was working one day when
the theater got a call from our boss and said, Hey,

your house is on fire. You should come by. So
the firefighters walked me through the burning home. I saw
no flaims, but it was smok. I went up to
my room. Nothing was burnt there, which is great, but
it did smell like a bondfire for about a year
after that. Man, everyone was gone at the time, so
nobody was heard about a month later my landlord slash boss,

same person, which is why that sounded weird. Earlier I
mentioned that there was a big break in the fire investigation,
but made me do a little work to figure out
who it was. It turns out the firefighter EMT that
I lived with decided he didn't want to live with
us anymore, so a week before he moved a couch
to the basement and set it on fire and walked away.

Speaker 2 (49:32):
Oh my god, with.

Speaker 1 (49:36):
I only found out because he admitted it to me.
My life went haywire for a while after that, but
I'm happy to report that I'm settled in full on
adulting with love.

Speaker 4 (49:47):
That is.

Speaker 2 (49:47):
Teagan Tour is fantastic. Quite a great, great story. Thanks
a lot, Tegan, who saw that coming. I did not
me that was a twist that you'd find at a
discount movie theater.

Speaker 1 (50:00):

Speaker 2 (50:01):
Well, if you want to be like Tea in and
send us an amazing story about something we talked about,
we love that kind of thing. You can send it
via email to stuff podcast at iHeartRadio dot com.

Speaker 4 (50:13):
Stuff you Should Know is a production of iHeartRadio.

Speaker 1 (50:16):
For more podcasts myheart Radio, visit the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts,
or wherever you listen to your favorite shows.

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