18th Avenue Merchants Give Thumbs Down To Garbage Can Removal Experiment

The MTA’s recent proposal to cut down on litter by eliminating the garbage cans in subway stops may seem unusual, but Bensonhurst merchants are urging the city to learn the lessons of a similar on-going experiment on 18th Avenue that they say has failed.

The MTA announced late last month that it was considering expanding its pilot program to reduce garbage at subway stations by removing litter baskets altogether, an experimental plan currently in effect at two stations outside of Brooklyn. Similar logic led to the Department of Sanitation’s removal of 44 garbage cans along 18th Avenue from 75th Street to 65th Street – at the request of Community Board 11 – this past July, aimed at preventing illegal dumping of commercial and residential garbage bags in the corner baskets. But for local businesses, it’s been a rough – and dirty – transition, made worse by a lack of notification.

Habib Gazali, supervisor of the Stop One Mini Mart between 71th Street and 70th Street, is frustrated that he has to sweep for 30 to 40 minutes, three to four times a day just to keep up with the litterers.

“I mean, without the baskets, what do you think they’re gonna do?” he said.

Community Board 11 District Manager Marnee Elias-Pavia said that removing the baskets encourages residents and merchants to seek appropriate places to put their garbage bags instead of in the baskets, where the bags overflow and leave little room for litter disposal.

“The baskets just invited people to throw all of their [household garbage in public bins],” Elias-Pavia said. Corner baskets are meant for that wayward candy wrapper or newspaper, not residential or commercial garbage.

The Department of Sanitation plans to continue the program for the next three months and continue monitoring the results, according to Department of Sanitation spokesman Matthew Lipani. A similar program in Bay Ridge had mixed results – but proponents say it was marred by the addition of new trash cans by State Senator Marty Golden during the pilot phase.

On 18th Avenue, the district manager is pleased with the results after just three months.

“There are still pockets and corners where we see garbage being put out,” said Elias-Pavia. “But generally, it’s a cleaner corridor.”

Part of the area’s garbage problem is that the city’s Sanitation Department does not service commercial corridors like 18th Avenue or the residences who live above storefronts. Property and business owners are responsible for hiring private garbage carters along those strips, but some residents and business owners flout the law. The new program includes a door-to-door campaign educating the public about proper garbage disposal.

In addition, sanitation workers go through the garbage bags left in the streets looking for identifying information. The department issues notices of violation to whomever they identify from investigating the bags.

Community Board 11 has entertained the idea of removing the litter baskets in Bensonhurst for years. Howard Feuer, former Community Board 11 District Manager, tried to start the program seven years ago. The idea was nixed when the board felt that nearby subway construction would be an unfair gauge from which to measure the experiment’s success.

Despite the positive assessments from both the community board and the department, local businesses insist that removing the litter baskets has actually made the garbage problem worse.

“The streets are twice as dirty,” said Phyllis Gallo, who works at Flowers by Emil between 73th Street and 74th Street.

Without the baskets, many parts of 18th Avenue are littered with garbage bags against mailboxes and parking meters, shopping bags in the corners and cardboard boxes.

“We’ve caught people literally put a flat-screen TV in front of our store,” said Phyllis Gallo. “And [the department] approached us because they think it’s ours, but it’s not.”

The garbage bags have attracted cockroaches in the bags left near One Beauty Supply between 65th Street and 66th Street.

“And not those small ones,” said Marisol Valle, employee of the beauty supply store. “You see those big ones. Those that jump.”

In addition, merchants insist there was no communication from the department about this experiment.

“I just didn’t see the baskets anymore,” said Joe Maffei, owner of Gino’s Focacceria, located between 72nd Street and 71st Street. “I saw it on the news, though.”

Several businesses also said that pedestrians regularly enter their stores only to throw away their trash.

District Manager Elias-Pavia, however, defends the experiment emphasizing that the amount of litter on the street is not a direct result of the removal of the litter baskets.

“Compare the streets. In 64th Street, it still has the litter baskets, and you see the same amount of litter,” Elias-Pavia said.

In the end, many of the storeowners and residents of 18th Avenue say that they want the litter baskets back.

“I think anyone should have access to put their garbage in the corners,” said Phyllis Gallo from Flowers by Emil.