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What's the Story Behind the Vanishing Trash Cans in Crown Heights?

A simple oversight, scrap metal thieves or something else? Residents puzzle over the low number of litter baskets in the neighborhood
trash in Crown Heights

Sidewalks lined with litter are nothing new for Brooklynites, but one Crown Heights resident says the lack of public garbage bins along Eastern Parkway is taking the familiar problem to an extreme.

Michael Corley, president of the Union Hill Block and Civic Association, says the bins along the pedestrian mall between Utica and Classon avenues were removed shortly before the West Indian Day Parade in 2017 and never returned. Despite contacting the Parks Department, 311, and the offices of Assemblywomen Diana Richardson and Laurie Cumbo, Corley says he still hasn't received an explanation for the missing bins.

"For the life of me, none of us can wrap our minds around why the garbage cans were never returned. It's something no one is giving us an answer about," Corley said.

Garbage, Eastern Parkway, Litter
A pile of trash sits on a corner of the Eastern Parkway pedestrian mall. Photo: Alex Williams for BK Reader

Since the bins were removed, Corley has watched the tree-lined footpath where he walks his dog several times a week morph into a dumping ground for not only bottles and cans, but busted appliances and junkyard debris as well.

"There've been televisions, whole kitchen cabinets, auto parts, a refrigerator on one occasion. It's gotten a little out of control," Corley said.

According to a Parks Department spokesperson, the trash cans are removed annually before the parade to accommodate crowds and NYPD, and then replaced. However, a foot canvassing of the area confirmed it's possible for a pedestrian to walk several blocks along Eastern Parkway without encountering a single bin.

The Parks Department representative also noted that the number of cans and their locations are deliberately limited to discourage the illegal dumping of household trash.

The low number of bins and the resulting litter isn't an issue that's isolated to the Parkway. This litter basket map published by Open Data NYC shows that the public bins in Crown Heights are mostly clustered along major avenues, whereas just north in Bed-Stuy, there's a bin on nearly every corner.

Litter, Trash, Crown Heights
Litter piles up in a corner near the intersection of Franklin Avenue and Bergen Street. Photo: Alex Williams for BK Reader

According to Frank Esquilin, president of the Crow Hill Community Association, he's been fielding complaints about a lack of litter baskets in the neighborhood for years. But Esquilin suspects a culprit other than city agencies — thieves snatching the waste baskets to sell for scrap metal.

"Every year or so, the Sanitation Department replaces the bins, and within a week or two they're gone," Esquilin said.

The concern over the missing baskets comes at a time when Brooklyn's rat infestation is getting worse, a problem the New York City Department of Health has said is best solved through better sanitation. According to statistics compiled by RentHop, Crown Heights residents called 311 for rodent complaints nearly 600 times in 2017.

When it comes to solving the litter problem by simply replacing the missing trash cans, Frank Esquilin isn't optimistic. "They can only give us so many bins," he said. "What good is it if they're just going to be stolen?"