New York’s trash is getting a tech makeover

Staten Island's ironically named Fresh Kills Landfill in the 1980s.

Garbage In, Tech Out

When Charles Dickens visited New York in 1842, he was especially taken with the passels of hogs that were used to dispose of the city’s waste. “He is in every respect a republican pig,” Dickens wrote, “going wherever he pleases, and mingling with the best society.” By 1860, an anti-pig campaign had succeeded in exiling the beasts north of 86th street, but it would still be another 21 years before the Department of Sanitation was established.

Thankfully, things in New York have improved (though if you’ve caught a whiff of the shoulder-high piles of garbage bags smoldering in the summer heat, you might beg to differ). Check out a few ways high tech has invaded New York trash.

Powerful Signals

You might have caught sight of the city’s new trash cans in Downtown Manhattan and Brooklyn. Created by Massachusetts-based waste management company Bigbelly, the solar-powered trash cans boast built-in sensors that compact the waste as cans fill up and cloud connectivity that allows the bins to notify workers when completely full. Now, the is partnering with the Downtown Alliance to emit something more palatable than sun-cooked stench: free Wi-Fi, with speeds reaching 50 to 75 megabits per second. They hope to begin equipping trash cans this fall.

Re: Cycle

Planned obsolescence isn’t just a problem for that four-year-old MacBook – it also puts a strain on our landfill. The city expects to collect 1.5 million pounds of dusty old desktops, printers, and other recycled electronics this year. In fact, don’t even think about just tossing your old iMac in the trash – throwing away just about any electronic became illegal in New York City this year.

Post Haste

It’s not just electronics – disposal of organic fare is also getting a makeover. Mayor de Blasio’s administration is looking to radically expand the city’s composting program, making it mandatory for businesses that generate large amounts of food waste to participate. 100,000 households in New York currently participate in the program, although the reaction hasn’t always been positive.


We may all intend to recycle – when it’s convenient, at least. But who hasn’t tossed a bottle in the trash when it’s the only receptacle in sight? Intellibins allows New Yorkers to find the nearest public recycling location using their mobile phones, rendering just about every excuse not to recycle moot.

The Alternatives

Of course, you could just follow the example of 23-year-old Lauren Singer. The Williamsburg resident claims she has gone two years without producing any trash, a process that involves making her own deodorant. And then there’s Nelson Molina. For the last 20 years, the sanitation worker has been collecting discarded art and trinkets along his route – the nearly 1,000-piece collection is housed in a Sanitation Department building on 99th Street.

Now go forth (and clean it up).