Posts Tagged ‘DSNY’

Pick up Picking Up in paper back

Friday, April 18, 2014

Back in January of 2008, I came across an NYC event listing that seemed to have been drafted just for me: a presentation given by a group of NYU anthropology students who had spent a semester planning a museum to honor the New York City Department of Sanitation (DSNY). Professor Robin Nagle, DSNY’s anthropologist in residence co-taught the course.

Photo via

Photo via

That’s how I discovered that such a position existed and that’s the first time I got to hear Nagle lecture on the history of trash in New York City. Her passion for the subject came across so clearly that I knew right away this idea of a museum honoring the sanitation department constituted more than a hypothetical class assignment. We discussed it a bit more one Trashtastic Tuesday; and a couple years after that I got her to join me on a panel about art and garbage that took place inside an RV parked on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.

Since then, I have kept up with Nagle mainly through social media (she has a badass Instagram feed) and by following the academic waste blog she founded, Discard Studies.

Then, a few weeks ago, my friend Oriana Leckert of Brooklyn Spaces asked if I wanted to join her at an event that merged her passion for unique creative venues with my passion for trash at the fabulous headquarters of Atlas Obscura. Nagle gave a fabulous lecture on the history of New York City’s struggle to deal with our trash. Highlights included amazing footage shot by Thomas Edison of sanitation workers loading a trash barge in 1903.  Did you know Edison took little slice of life vignettes of the city and that you can view them all on YouTube thanks to the Library of Congress? You’re welcome.

After the lecture, I went home and opened up my copy of Picking Up, Nagle’s wonderful book in which she chronicles her time on the job as a sanitation worker and puts a human face on the corps of people who deal with our trash once we throw it “away.”


picking up

Picking Up: On the Streets and Behind the Trucks with the Sanitation Workers of New York City

The book is full of great anecdotes, personal stories and incredible facts. It’s a must read for all trashes and is now available in paperback. Go forth and purchase.


Waste in Focus

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Glad (you know, the company that makes, among other things, trash bags) is teaming up with the New York City Department of Sanitation (DSNY) for an Earth Day (April 10) unveiling of a photo series featuring U.S. families and the trash they produce over the course of one week. 


Charlene Wimms and Donell Brant of NYC, New York, with their children Darius Brant, 9, and Terrard Wimms, 16, surrounded by a week’s worth of their recyclables and landfill trash, in February. Recyclable items are on the left-hand side of the photo. Items destined for landfill are to the right. Their total household waste for this week was 28.9 lb. Seventy-nine percent of it (22.9 lb) was landfill and twenty-one percent of it was recyclables (6 lb). Photo credit: Peter Menzel.

Photojournalist Peter Menzel and writer Faith D’Aluisio interviewed and photographed eight families across the country for the project, gave each family instructions to save their trash and recycling for a week, then Menzel and D’Alusio cleaned and arranged the waste for very special family portraits. I normally dread Earth Day, because as a trash blogger it means tons of extra email for weeks from companies pitching inane (and often not very Earth-friendly) products and campaigns. I have to say, though, that I like this project. It’s trash specific, artistic and informative. They call it Waste in Focus.

New Yorkers can see the photos this Thursday afternoon (April 10) on display at Union Square. 

Hurricane Sandy

Monday, October 29, 2012

The entire East Coast of the United States seems to have shut down—public transport, schools, Broadway theaters, banks, the stock exchange—but trash collection is on for Monday in New York City. Pretty darn impressive. Feels like today is a good day to revisit Chasing Sanitation, an artistic tribute to New York’s Strongest in the form of portraits and collected stories.

Touch Sanitation

And, while we’re at it, it’s a good day to revisit the work of Mierle Landerman Ukeles, the Department of Sanitation’s artist in residence. Among other landmark trash-related installations, Ukeles is known for a performance piece she put on in 1984 called Touch Sanitation. Over 11 months,  she shook the hand of every sanitation worker in the city and said “Thank you for keeping New York City alive.” Here’s a classic Talk of the Town on her work, via Feldman Gallery.

Stay safe, trashies.

NYC WasteMatch

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Check it New Yorkers, the city has a site to match commercial waste to people who could put that crap to use and sells it to them on the cheap. It’s win-win: cheap stuff for the citizen, less waste for the city to haul.

The site lists neat stats on total cost savings, tonnes of trash averted and numbers of members and exchanges. The numbers date back to 1998, which leads one to believe this little-known-service has been around for a while but is just now getting a tech refresh. Does your community have something like this?

via Brokelyn

City of Systems: Waste Removal

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Urban Omnibus, a project of the Architectural League of New York, has a fantastic series of blog posts and videos out called City of Systems. The final chapter, Waste Removal, came out two months ago, though I hadn’t seen it until today. Thanks, Annie, for posting it to the the Facebook page. The video features an interview with trashie icon Elizabeth Royte, who gives a brief history of solid waste management in New York and shares what motivated her to write Garbage Land, a must-read for anyone interested in trash. Back in 2007, Royte was the first author in a week-long series of author interviews we featured here called Literary Trash. Check out that interview here. Might be time to revive the theme.

San Man Legacy

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

I got all excited when I downloaded the latest Moth podcast this morning and read the description: “A young man struggles with his role in the family sanitation business.” Luckily, this week’s installment lived fully up to those inflated expectations. It’s a sweet New York story and well worth a listen. Thank you, Terence Mickey, for brightening my morning commute. The outro references a novel in the works called The Gleaners. Trashtastic title, can’t wait!

Marine transfer stations

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

After reading this article, I dug up my city’s solid waste management plan a.k.a. SWaMP to reread this chapter and refer to the map below. More to come. Consider this a heads up, trashies. I may wonk out on you for a post or few.

Transfer points for NYC garbage

How NYC recycles paper

Friday, June 3, 2011

via GrowNYC

The Twist-Ties that Bind

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

On Wednesday, December 8th, Dr. Robin Nagle, New York’s Department of Sanitation anthropologist in residence, is giving  a talk entitled “The Twist-Ties that Bind” as part of an ongoing series of Freshkills Park talks. Here’s the description:

Join Dr. Robin Nagle to learn (almost) everything you ever wanted to know about garbage in New York. Discover how profoundly it connects us to each other, to history, to politics, to infrastructure and technology. Hear stories and reflections from people who shoulder its burdens. Glimpse some of its surprising secrets. Consider why we need to ignore it, and ponder the consequences of its invisibility. The insights you glean migh…t just change forever the way you see your city.

Dr. Nagle is the anthropologist-in-residence for the Department of Sanitation. She is also director of the John W. Draper Interdisciplinary Master’s Program in Humanities and Social Thought at New York University, where she teaches anthropology and urban studies. Her book Picking Up, about what it is to be a sanitation worker in New York and why you should care, will be published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

This lecture is co-sponsored by the New York City Department of Sanitation and the John W. Draper Interdisciplinary Master’s Program in Humanities and Social Thought at New York University.

I highly recommend checking out this event if you’re in or near NYC. Freshkills Park has created a Facebook event so you don’t forget. And even if you can’t make it, check out Dr. Nagle’s garblog, Discard Studies. As we’ve mentioned before, it’s rad.

Edmonton Composting Facility

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Just catching up on the third installment of City Room’s “Ask a Garbologist” feature from last week. In particular, I was selfishly pleased to see my own question answered—what are some model policies from other cities that New York could learn from?

Dr. Nagle’s response:

New York’s garbage footprint would shrink significantly if we could build a large-scale composting facility like this state-of-the-art example in Edmonton, Canada. That city, like so many, once consigned all its household waste to landfills, but now 60 percent of it is recycled or composted.

Edmonton’s plant, which takes up about 60 acres, is the largest in North America. The city proper has a population of about 750,000; the larger metropolitan region has approximately one million. A similar facility in New York would have to be a whole lot bigger if we intended it to serve the entire city. Unlike Edmonton, we are not surrounded by open space, so an immediate problem would be finding a place to put it. Edmontonians claim that their facility emits no odors (and no odours, either), a fact verified by a friend who toured it a couple of years ago. Even a stink-free plant in New York would bump up against NIMBY issues, but if we had the political will, the patience and the right spirit, I bet we could build something similar.

Edmonton Composting Facility

Thanks, Robin, for taking the time! And thanks, City Room for the trashtastic feature! Readers if you’re just tuning in, I highly recommend sifting through all three installments of answers from a garbologist. Each is riddled with interesting facts and handy references to trashy resources.

Ask a Garbologist

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The fabulous Dr. Robin Nagle, Anthropologist in Residence for the Department of Sanitation of New York, is taking trashy questions over at City Room. I posted one about waste policies. Got burning quesitons of your own? Here’s your chance to ask an expert!

Dr. Robin Nagle

For more on the woman behind such a cool job title, check out the Trashtastic Tuesday Q&A she granted back in 2008.

Fast Trash

Saturday, April 24, 2010

A bunch of you have sent me updates about this exhibit: “Fast Trash: Roosevelt Island’s Pneumonic Tubes and the Future of Cities.” I have long been curious about the fabled trash tubes of NYC’s weirdest little island and can’t wait to check out the show as soon as I get home (yay tram!).  If you’re in New York this month, it’s showing through May 23 at Gallery RIVAA on (where else) Main Street. Has anyone been yet? If so, do tell!

The Freshkills Park Blog has a comprehensive post here.

New York City tra$h

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Does your city have a store? Mine does. City Hall augments tax dollars and offsets the cost of renovating and upkeeping by selling New Yorkers city-related stuff. What kind of stuff? Well, for example, if you get married at City Hall, you can pick up flowers, travel tissues, bride and groom rubber duckies, etc. All the essentials, really.

City Hall wedding souvenir

I am deeply conflicted about private/public partnership in this town. On the one hand, we have a beautiful park in the center of Manhattan. You may have heard of it, it’s called Central Park. But the Parks Department can’t afford to keep it fresh-smelling and bum-free on tax dollars alone. That would be a problem if there weren’t so many rich people who love the park and are willing to put their own money into keeping it nice. So they do. And in return, the park has a board of directors called the Central Park Conservancy that oversees official park business. Perfect synergy. Except: the park is also a popular gathering spot. A few years ago, the U.S. wanted to start this never-ending war in Iraq and concerned citizens decided to gather in the park to say NO. Unfortunately, the place they wanted to gather was a grassy lawn recently replanted on the Conservancy’s dime. So the Conservancy said NO, which is kind of scary when you look at it as a private board telling the public they can’t have a public gathering in a public space. Now, this story is not new to most of you and has lots of nuances left out. But it’s an example of the kind of questions this shit raises. Enter Oscar.

DSNY Oscar

The latest product launch at the City of New York Store is a series of stuffed Sesame Street characters dressed as employees of various city agencies. Oscar is a sanitation worker, of course. And the others seem to have been determined by fur color. Cookie Monster is NYPD blue. Elmo is a red fireman. And Big Bird Drives a yellow cab (which, as the daughter of a retired yellow cab driver I have to say is poor casting. Where the hell is that gritty muppet from the Caper?).

Don’t get me wrong, I know there’s a financial crisis going on and that if this were a Gund campaign to save the pandas, I’d be cooing. There is just something that rubs me the wrong way about all these products going on sale to raise money for city projects. Part of the concern is the commercialization. Sesame Street is one brand, Gund is another that’s two companies mixing with the brand of NYC. This new product line, however, comes at a time when the city is greatly expanding semicorporate ventures in the name of development. Gutting and reconstructing Coney Island, for example. There is something unfair about the sentiment that grit defines this city and removing it is wrong, I know. But there is also something sad about these corporate ventures. They feel to me like giving up, like quick fixes for what local government should be able to do on its own and like poorly thought-through plans that can lead to private interest trumping people’s interests. Like the people who live in Coney Island now.

Anyway, this is a subject I am inarticulate and confused about. What do you think? Is it a good thing that Snapple is the official drink of New York and that somewhere in America, there sits a Taco Bell chair in Women’s Studies? All I know is that I really want an Oscar the Grouch sanitation worker doll and that I really don’t want to want one.

On the job

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Collecting trash is a dangerous job. You don’t have to travel to developing countries for examples of why this is true. A Mack truck ran into and killed a sanitation worker this week as he was standing behind his truck in Queens, New York. If you read the comments in this City Room post, you’ll see locals complain that even though this street may have been closed to giant truck traffic, Mack trucks cut through it for convenience. I don’t know yet if that’s true—if the truck that killed this sanitation worker had made an illegal turn or a legal one—either way Frank Justich‘s death was tragic.

I heart Maira Kalman

Monday, September 28, 2009

…and her visual columns in the New York Times. This is especially true of her recent piece on trash and sewage.



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