City Council Takes New Steps to Address Flushing Garbage Crisis

Main Street in downtown Flushing isn’t a pretty sight at the end of the day. Piles and piles of garbage bags, mostly from restaurants, litter the sidewalks.

But those messy streets could soon look cleaner because of new initiatives from the city’s Department of Sanitation, the Flushing Business Improvement District, the garbage pickup service Crown Container and Councilman Peter Koo.

Crown Container Transfer Station at Mets — Willets Point. (The Ink/Ravie Lakshmanan)

Flushing has struggled to cope with the effects of the rapid economic growth that is redefining the area with a surging population and a booming real estate market. “Flushing has become heavily populated and is highly polluted,” said resident Cynthia Jones, a 35-year-old working mother. “The garbage is a big part of the problem.”

Maria Oliver, a 40-year-old Brazilian immigrant who lives in Manhattan and was recently visiting Flushing, said the city isn’t doing enough. “Look at the place,” she said. “The city is obviously doing a poor a job. The area around Manhattan is neat. It’s because that’s where the rich live. They care only about the rich.”

The garbage pickup in Flushing is currently a three-way arrangement between New York City’s sanitation department, the Flushing Business Improvement District and Crown Container, a private contractor in charge of the commercial garbage pickup that is paid by the businesses in the area.

While the sanitation department takes care of household refuse, metals, paper and plastics, the Flushing Business Improvement District handles the sidewalk litter.

Much of the garbage appears to come from Flushing’s busy restaurants. Their garbage overwhelms the sidewalks ahead of Crown’s scheduled 5 p.m. pick-up, leading the sanitation department to levy hefty fines (approximately $1,200) on violating restaurants.

But this approach hasn’t paid off very well. Restaurant owners on 40th Road, a small stretch between Main Street and Prince Street also called as “Restaurant Row,” say they don’t have enough space for storing garbage before pick-up time.

Marilyn Bitterman, who recently retired as the district manager of Community Board 7, said the problem is noticeable only around downtown Flushing. But she recognized the importance of keeping the area neat and clean.

“Downtown Flushing gets more sanitation services than other areas in the neighborhood. You’ve a BID (Flushing Business Improvement District) that has been very instrumental,” she said. “The problem with downtown Flushing is unfortunately the new generation of immigrants who have brought in their bad habits with them (referring to the immigrants).”

Bitterman also said discussions with restaurant owners have been less than successful. “I mean you could talk to them and say you can’t do it,” she said. “And they will smile and they will do it. The (city) administration feels that education and awareness is very important.”

Recognizing the continuing sanitation issues of the area, the city has partnered with Crown Container, which has invested about $300,000 in sanitation equipment for the neighborhood. As part of this initiative, new 45-gallon waste receptacles are being given out to the restaurants along 40th Road.

Employees at Fu Run Dong Bei restaurant said they received two bins from Crown Container on Sept. 13 for storing garbage. Pickups have been scheduled twice a day, once between 5–6 p.m. and a second time around midnight.

To insure that restaurants don’t leave garbage bins after collection times, the sanitation department has decided to impose a $350 fine, said Dian Yu, executive director of Flushing Business Improvement District, who also praises the commercial pickup service’s efforts.

“The new initiative (of distributing waste bins) is a pilot project and has started at 40th Road, and Crown Containers have been the driving force,” said Yu. “They have agreed to do scheduled pickups twice a day, which I believe will help mitigate the problem to some extent.”

But Yu acknowledges the complexities of a place like Flushing, a major transit hub in the area. “The population has increased and the restaurant business is a very big thing out here,” he said. “But foul smells and leaky garbage is a serious problem. While there is a need to improve the cleanliness, we also want Flushing to be the go-to place for New Yorkers.”

“But at the same time it’s difficult to keep Flushing clean 24 hours a day,” he added. “That’s simply impossible given how busy the place is. We also want to support local businesses.” He said more fines might alienate business owners.

Yu thinks the community as a whole has to be more conscious of littering and garbage. “Awareness is the key,” Yu said. “It’s easy to complain about the situation, and keep going back and forth, but nothing will come off it. Let’s cooperate and let’s all be part of the solution.