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Transcript: Mayor Adams, Sanitation Commissioner Tisch Announce Next Steps in War on Rats: Rules Requiring More Businesses Containerize Their Waste

June 28, 2023

Ingrid Lewis-Martin, Chief Advisor to the Mayor: Good morning. It's indeed good to be here today. I'm Chaplain Doctor Ingrid Lewis-Martin, chief advisor to our Mayor Eric Adams, who has a wonderful announcement that he will make in partnership with my colleague and dear friend, Commissioner Jessica Tisch. Mayor Adams, please.

Mayor Eric Adams: Thank you.

Lewis-Martin: You're welcome.

Mayor Adams: Thank you so much, Ingrid. And before we start, I want New Yorkers to know that the ongoing Canadian wildfires may impact New York City's air quality tomorrow, and off and on over the coming weeks. It just really amazes me when I think about it, a fire that's taken place thousands of miles away is actually impacting our city. Just renew our spirit and energy around dealing with the climate change that we are facing. I urge all New Yorkers to monitor air quality reports in the coming days, and be prepared to take precautions or change plans accordingly. Depending on your sensitivity to poorer air quality conditions, you may want to adjust your outdoor activities. And we're stating that when appropriate to use masks, and feel free to do so.

A New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has a cautionary advisory in place for today. They expect that advisory to remain in place at least through tomorrow. NYPD precincts and FDNY firehouses will be issuing masks as a precautionary measure. And we also are asking New Yorkers to sign up for Notify NYC at, and check for reliable information. Our city agencies are monitoring the situation closely, and will continue to keep New Yorkers informed, and Commissioner Iscol is here for any follow-up questions in that area. But our team, we have met and we are coordinated and we are keeping a watchful eye on the difficulties of monitoring the flow of smoke that's coming from the northern region.

Switching to today, I want to talk about how we're moving our city forward and improving the quality for all of us to get rid of those bags. All over the city we see them. They are a relic from the past of how they're lining our sidewalks. And it was something that the commissioner and I talked about during last year when we started this administration. The goal was to remove trash off our streets, number one. To deal with the unsightliness of it, and how it impacts on the feeling of being a clean city. But as I say over and over again, I hate rats, and rats love garbage bags. We cannot coexist. And I think you made it clear, commissioner. Rats do not run the city. New York City used to be known for our mean streets, but going forward, we're going to be known for our clean streets.

Today we take two giant steps forward towards that goal, by announcing new rules to place our garbage in containers. The first, we require the use of containers by food related businesses, including all restaurants, grocery stores, delis, and bodegas. Effectively closing down the, as you would say, the all you can eat, rat buffet that has plagued our city for too long. Secondly, we're proposing a new rule for the next phase, which will require any chain business of five locations or more in New York City to also use a container. 

This is a significant shift and it will tackle 25 percent of all businesses in our city, and result in the secure disposal of nearly 4 million pounds per day of commercial waste in closed containers. Just think about that for a moment. It's a real pathway forward. And congratulations to the commissioner and her team for coming up with an effective way to start the process of ensuring our city is going to be the cleanest big city in America.

These two proposals will have a transformative effect on our city, and will eliminate the mountains of food waste piled up on bags and on our sidewalks. We will keep our streets cleaner for longer and make less appetizing to the rodents that feed off of trash bag type garbage disposal, and it would vastly improve the cleanliness and quality of life across the five boroughs. The administration is committed to cleaning up our city and supporting small businesses. So we are working closely with the restaurant industry, retail outlets, and SBS, to implement these new proposals and others. We are listening to our partners to effectively address this issue, allowing substantial flexibility on the type and location of containers used as long as they are secured and keep out rodents. Putting out garbage in containers is a proven solution that has been adopted in cities all across the globe, but New York is going to lead from the front.

If a major city the size of New York and all of its complexities, if we can make it happen, this would cascade again across America. We've already made big changes to keep our streets clean, including universal composting. Many people didn't think it was possible. After the Queens project, we saw how homeowners in Queens, particularly in areas that were denied these pilot projects, were successful. We are going to continue to expand. We created the latest set out times for trash. We're seeing success in that area as well. And we have an aggressive plan to tackle the future of trash in this city. We have been talking about containerizing our garbage for a long time. Previous administrations have tried, but this administration, the amazing women, have got it done and we will continue to make it happen.

And so I want to thank all of our team members. Again, my chief advisor, Ingrid Lewis-Martin, who has been leading a lot of these conversations, and bringing people across the line of these difficult attempts. Deputy mayor, Mayor Joshi, our great Sanitation Commissioner Jessica Tisch, and our Director of Rodent Mitigation Kathy Corradi, who has hit the ground running. And I think eventually we are going to be reporting some good numbers in that area as well. And of course, the most significant change to our streets and the cleanliness, everyday New Yorkers. This is what New Yorkers asked for. We hear about this over and over again. We want our city to be clean and we are doing it. We're getting stuff done for the people of this city, and not the rats. We say over and over, rats do not run our city. Thank you very much. Good job, commissioner. Let me bring up our amazing commissioner for having the vision to make it happen, Commissioner Tisch.

Commissioner Jessica Tisch, Department of Sanitation: Thank you. Thank you, Mayor Adams. Earlier this year, Mayor Adams committed to an aggressive phased approach to finally, finally getting the black bags off the streets. And I have incredible news. Preliminary results show that it's working. Two months ago, we changed the time when trash goes on the sidewalk, and completely overhauled when the Department of Sanitation picks it up. We moved our largest shift an hour earlier, from 6:00 am to 5:00 am. 

We got rid of an old way of doing things, where some trash was scheduled to sit out on the curb for up to 32 hours until the end of the next day. We put 2,000 of the largest residential buildings on special schedules, to get them collected immediately, and we're getting up to 30 percent of the trash in high density areas on our midnight shift just hours after it goes out, meaning most New Yorkers never see it.

In the time since that once in a generation change to sanitation operations, where New Yorkers changed their behavior and we changed ours too, reported sightings of public enemy number one, the rats, are down by an incredible amount. 15 percent in May and 26 percent so far in June, compared to last year. That's because we paired the new rules with meaningful enforcement of them. 45,000 summonses or warnings issued by the Department of Sanitation related to set out times since April 1st. The haters and doubters wondered if it would make a difference, sometimes they didn't even wonder, they just insisted it wouldn't. 

Well, the numbers don't lie. Less access to food means fewer rats. But it means more than that, it means clean, beautiful streets. It means you can smell the wonders of New York rather than the piles of garbage. Just to think about it, this week would normally be peak hot garbage season, but it isn't because we are taking action now against the trash.

No one wants to see it, no one wants to smell it, and we certainly don't want the rats to eat it. That said, we're not here to celebrate past wins right now, we're here to talk about new ones. I'll now share a few more specifics about the announcements we're making today. This spring, the Department of Sanitation published a detailed analysis, the first of its kind of what containerization could look like in New York City. 

While the report was primarily focused on residential trash, which we collect, it also covered options around commercial trash, which we do not collect. The analysis found that individual containers rolling or stationary bins in the 30 to 96 gallon range, like the kind many of you have seen before, are the best solution for most or all businesses that do not use loading docks. In May we proposed, as the mayor said, that all food-related businesses be required to put their trash in bins rather than on the sidewalks. That rule publishes in The City Record on Friday, when it will be final and will be set to go into effect in New York City on August 1st.

There will be a warning period before we start writing tickets, but if the change in set out times are any indication, we expect to see a difference almost right away. These businesses, many of which the mayor mentioned, produce a disproportionate amount of the kind of trash that attracts rats. That's why we've started with them. And we're already moving on the next phase, which I'll go into now. At the same time that we publish the food related business rule, we'll propose the same kind of rule for chain businesses that have five or more locations in New York City. That's the logical next phase as we move forward. These are businesses that produce a particularly high volume of trash. You've seen these businesses, cell phone stores, pharmacies, banks, gyms, movie theaters, and they don't always have an interest in keeping the neighborhood clean the way a small business would. The rats don't rest and neither will we. Thank you all very much. Now, I'd like to bring up a sworn enemy of dirty streets, Council Member Shaun Abreu.

Council Member Shaun Abreu: Thank you Commissioner Tisch. This administration won't rest, I won't rest until we defeat the rats and when we win the war. Look, we have done a lot as a city to really containerize trash. The old way of doing trash in the city with the bags is the old way of handling trash in the city, but we're saying we're moving away from it. This administration, I'm very grateful for them for putting their money where their mouth is, and investing nearly $6 million for the pilot containerization program in my district. Every school in my district is going to be containerized. That's 14 schools. That's a big deal. 10 residential blocks in Harlem is going to be placed with containers. And now we're seeing that it's going to go to restaurants and groceries and to bodegas, where there's a massive food supply that rats rely on.

We've also seen it with composting. We've seen it with the trash set out times, rat mitigation zones, which by the way, 80 percent of my district has as well. We're seeing something very transformative here in the data. You heard it from Commissioner Tisch, 15 percent drop, now 26 percent drop. We expect this to continue. And I'm sure we'll get into the numbers even more so later when we see the impact of your changes go into effect, and continue to impact the lives of New Yorkers in my district. So grateful for this administration. We're containerizing trash, and this is the way to do this. Thank you so much, Mayor Adams. Thank you so much, Commissioner Tisch. And I have to give it up to Ingrid, who was very critical in negotiating the trash shutout times in the fall of last year, and really doing what many thought was not possible.

Commissioner Tisch: Any on topic questions?

Question: Hi. Yeah, my question is for the containers, is there any regulations how big they need to be, where they need to be set exactly? And if they too filled up, do they get violations?

Commissioner Tisch: Yeah. So the rules go through some specifics on the containers, and I'll just briefly outline them for you now. The containers generally should be between 30 and 96 gallons. And 96 gallon containers are very large, but each business will have to work with their carter to understand the size container that their carter can manage. So that will be a conversation between the businesses themselves and their carters. We tried to be incredibly flexible with businesses on where they can store their containers when they're not set out on the curbs. They can store them obviously indoors if they have the space. But if they don't have the space, they can store them outdoors, they can store them along their property line, or within three feet of their property line, which is in line with the regulations for where businesses can store merchandise or keep merchandise outdoors. So one of the new things that you'll see as part of these rules is much more flexibility on where those containers can be stored, and it's because we know every business is different and we try to be as accommodating as possible.

Question: So I wanted to ask about how chains are defined, like a chain of five. So if there's say a grocery store that's a franchise, or a bodega owner who maybe owns six different bodegas, but they're under different LLCs, do they count those chains? How do you define it?

Commissioner Tisch: Yes. Mike, we can point you to the provision in the administrative code, which defines chain stores. But if you think of an example like a franchise business, like a Dunkin' Donuts, there are obviously more than five Dunkin’ Donuts in the city. Although they may be run by different franchisees, they would qualify as a chain store and be required to follow these rules.

Question: I was wondering, commissioner, do you find it's easier to come up with these solutions for private businesses, because their trash is picked up by the private carting industry, as opposed to the Sanitation Department, which the State contracts, and deals with unions and all that?

Commissioner Tisch: No, certainly not. I think if you saw our 100-page report on containerization that was published the other month, it went into very specific detail on the path forward for both residential and commercial containerization in New York City. And what you're seeing from this administration is we are plowing forward aggressively on both. Today we are talking about new rules related to commercial trash, but there is a tremendous amount that's going on in terms of our work to containerize residential trash. I think you've seen that in the pilot program that Council Member Abreu mentioned before, and we are definitely going to have a lot to say about it. But I would look at that report that we published as our playbook. None of this should be a surprise to anyone, because we told everyone exactly what the playbook is, and now we're executing the place, residential and commercial.

Question: Will it eventually expand to all businesses, or just chains? And how come just chains to start?

Commissioner Tisch: We wanted to take a phased approach to containerization, I would say an aggressive but phased approach. It's clearly a very big change in New York City. So I think of it as so far we've executed or we're executing three phases so far. First was a change in set out times for businesses and residences. This affected every business and every residence in New York City. We moved the time that trash can be set out from 4:00 pm to 8:00 pm, but we also massively incentivize the use of containers in New York City, by allowing residents to set their trash out two hours earlier at 6:00 pm if they put it in a container. And also we've allowed businesses in those rules to continue to set their trash out an hour before closing. But if it's before 8:00 pm, it's got to be in a container.

So even before we started talking about the restaurant rule or the chain store rule, we started seeing more and more use of containers in New York City. So phase one was resetting the baseline, changing the set out times in New York City to what I think is a much more normal set out time. Phase two is focusing on the food-related businesses, the restaurants, the bars, the bodegas, because they produce a lot of food waste. Phase three is going to be the chain stores. And yes, if you look at our detailed report on containerization, there will be more bin mandates to come in New York City. It is a strategy that works. Cleanliness to the streets, rats, odor.

Question: Hi, commissioner. One of our reporters recently did an analysis of the rat complaints. And yes, we found that they are significantly down, but when he was mapping out the numbers, he found that some neighborhoods, like Astoria, saw an increase. And I was wondering whether you and your staff have looked at those numbers and can explain, overall the numbers are down, but why in some neighborhoods like a neighborhood like Astoria, why are they up?

Commissioner Tisch: So a few things on that. Yes, obviously we've looked at the numbers in great detail. And what we've found doing a neighborhood by neighborhood analysis is, in a number of the districts that have the highest levels of decrease in complaints are in rat mitigation zones. And so while it is not perfect, it's not exact, we are seeing 30 percent decreases in a number of rat mitigation zones. And after this conference we can provide those numbers to you. But I also say, I [inaudible] my comments on the numbers and said they're preliminary results. Because remember, the data sources is 311. And yes, it's important to understand where the complaints are coming from. That is a data source, but it's not the only data source. It's a preliminary data source that's looking really good, that we're definitely paying attention to.

Question: Yeah. 26 percent drop is pretty impressive. Is that, Mr. Mayor, the sort of thing you're looking for in a future police commissioner? 

Mayor Adams: Oh, I love the creativity in attempting to find a way to get a response. I have a police commissioner right now. And after that commissioner leaves, then we will talk about what the future holds. But right now I have a commissioner and I like her a lot. Thank you.


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