GROSS: ‘Clean Curbs’ Bins Show Growing Pains in Times Square

The Times Square Alliance's trash enclosure at Eighth Avenue and 43rd Street has only been out there since the end of April. It's tough out there in 'The Deuce.' Photo: Eve Kessler
The Times Square Alliance's trash enclosure at Eighth Avenue and 43rd Street has only been out there since the end of April. It's tough out there in 'The Deuce.' Photo: Eve Kessler

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The Sanitation Department’s “Clean Curbs” pilot — trash enclosures in Times Square that were installed a mere three months ago — is a bit of a mess.

“How’s that containerized trash pilot going? Well, the container isn’t sealed so we still get rotten garbage juice all over the street,” tweeted one New Yorker about a Clean Curbs enclosure at Eighth Avenue and 43rd Street, adding, “The greatest city in the world, folks!”

On Tuesday morning, Streetsblog checked it out, and we, too, found leaks and wear and tear in the first trash enclosures amid the rough conditions at the “Crossroads of the World.” Two doors of the four-bin enclosure were unlocked, and someone had removed the 96-gallon plastic pail and dumped a trash bag on the floor.

At another Times Square Alliance enclosure, at Seventh Avenue and 41st street, all the doors appeared locked, but workers hadn’t closed them well, leaving a gap at the bottom big enough for even the dumbest rat to squeeze through. Water from Monday’s thunder storms pooled around both.

The steel-and-bamboo enclosures are produced by CITIBIN, a woman-owned, Brooklyn-based business that advertises its product as being rat-proof: A promotional video, “#Pizza Rat Versus CITIBIN,” enacts an “experiment” in which rats can’t gain entrance to a bin that’s been baited with a pizza pie.

Many businesses and residences around the boroughs use the enclosures, such that CITIBIN broke $1 million in sales last year. But the bins have never been employed at the scale of a business improvement district — especially such a large one. Are they up to the task?

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CITIBIN owner Liz Picarazzi attributed the problems to overuse and “gross juice”: “The bins need to be cleaned more often and are over-capacity,” she said, issues that will be addressed “by power washing more often and [installing] more bins.”

Picarazzi explained that the Times Square Alliance’s “sanitation ambassadors haul countless trash bags, most of which have gross juice in them” — so some offending liquid is likely seeping from sidewalk bags. She said the staffers “work really hard… [and] have already given us suggestions that will be incorporated into the next version.”

“I’m actually glad that our first installation was Times Square,” she continued. “With 300,000 trash-producing tourists passing through daily, it may be the most extreme stress testing my product will ever have. The learnings are many, but that’s what a pilot is all about.”

The $1.3 million Clean Curbs pilot, while small, is important. New York can’t seem to rid itself of its famous “5 o’clock shadow” — the mountains of black plastic trash bags on sidewalks walkers must navigate each collection day. Cities in countries as diverse as Spain, France, South Korea, Argentina, and the Netherlands for decades have used below-ground containers, pneumatic tubes, and sorting bins to keep streets clean and garbage out of pedestrians’ way. Meanwhile, critics say that the pilot is too small and unambitious to be scalable to a city as large as New York, which needs to rethink its trash collection methods soup to nuts.

The Sanitation Department acknowledged the pilot’s growing pains.

“We are working with Times Square Alliance to improve container maintenance and operation practices,” said spokesman Vincent Gragnani. “This includes ensuring that the doors fully close and increasing cleaning of the bins and the area around them to a daily frequency, starting today. In the longer term, we are also looking to increase capacity to the Times Square Alliance bins and add a drainage feature.

“This is a pilot program,” Gragnani continued, “and the purpose of this pilot program is to ‘test methods for getting garbage bags off the streets.’ We have said from the beginning that we want to see what works and what doesn’t. If this is a recurring issue, it will be taken into account as we expand the program.”

Clean Curbs will launch another pilot involving trash enclosures for a group of apartment houses on West 45th Street between Ninth and 10th avenues this fall.