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New York City: The City That's Never Clean

New York City: the spectacle of the state, the city that never sleeps, the place people assume you are from when you tell them you‘re from New York. It’s a bustling, busy place filled with sparkling lights, culturally diverse groups of people, places of art and entertainment, and an overall magical place, and this magic is only amped up during the holiday season.

Everyone says that NYC is the place to be during the holidays, but is it really? Don’t get me wrong, I think New York City is fun and beautiful if you ignore the 80% of the city that… isn’t, but you could not pay me to go to the city during this time. On normal days, the city is already crowded and dangerous and filthy, but during the holidays it’s even MORE crowded and dangerous and filthy.


‘Tis the Season for Trash!

New York City is unfortunately infamous for its filth, with littering having been a problem for many years. This will naturally increase with the holiday season as more people from all over the world flock to the city to eat at the fancy restaurants, take pictures in Times Square, and buy things from its lavish shops. Despite the decrease in the influx of visitors from 2020–2023 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the city is still a hot tourist spot during the holidays. This year, the city is predicted to have about 60 million visitors, with NYC hotel occupancy increasing by 84.2%.

Now, I’m not saying that people shouldn’t go to the city. New York City’s economy runs on tourist income and, though I don’t like it personally, even I can’t deny that the busy foot traffic adds to the charm. However, it also adds to the trash, especially on New Year’s Day.

When the clock strikes midnight on January 1st, it is tradition to celebrate with pounds and pounds of confetti — 3,300 pounds, to be exact. Yes, every year, 1.5 tons of confetti are dumped on the streets of Times Square during the celebration. To add to this, tourists also leave 130,000 pounds of trash on the streets during the event, taking around 12 hours for over 200 sanitation workers to clean up the mess.

This is just from the New Year's celebration alone, so imagine how much trash 60 million visitors will bring when they spend days vacationing in the city.

Trash Bag Central

Even outside the holidays, the streets of NYC are still covered in trash and trash bags. If you’ve been to the city, you should know about those random areas where it smells terrible, the fat, black trash bags oozing brown liquid lined up on the sides of the street, and the puddles of “water” on the ground you sidestep on the sidewalk. Nothing screams New York City magic like rat and maggot-infested trash bags!

In all seriousness, the trash situation is so severe that it’s starting to become a safety hazard. Some sidewalks are so covered in trash bags that there’s no space for people to walk, forcing pedestrians to walk on the street. Not to mention the trash outside of the trash bags that litter the ground, ironically usually next to a trash can. It’s admittedly not very aesthetic.

New York City used to have actual “ Oscar-the-grouch” like garbage cans, but after 1968, they were replaced with just plain trash bags. Other cities like those in Korea and France containerize their waste, but, for some reason, New York is just behind the curve. However, recent efforts have started to implement trash bins across the city, with trash collectors stating that it makes their lives much easier, especially since they don’t have to fight the foot-long rats that scavenge the bags anymore.

Unfortunately, change is coming very slowly since the mayor has not been prioritizing trash cleanup, and people aren’t particularly eager to reduce their waste or change their habits of placing trash 2 inches away from a trash can. In regards to waste production, New York City holds its crown as the city that produces the most waste by a landslide.

Even Mexico City and Tokyo, who are runners-up for second and third, produce less than half the waste that NYC does, even though their population is greater. While most of the 33 million tons of waste produced in NYC come from big businesses and industries, private households aren’t very innocent either. The average citizen produces 4.4 pounds of waste per day.

I’m Dreaming of a Gray Christmas

New York City also has infamously bad air quality. While it’s not quite as bad as other cities, it’s still bad enough to where it has become hazardous. New York emits more air pollution than any other state in America, and there have been more premature deaths in NYC than any other state.

Most of New York City's air pollution is caused by buildings that use gas or oil in furnaces or boilers to produce heat. The rest are caused by vehicles and power plants. The pollutants emitted from buildings, vehicles, and power plants can cause various health issues, including premature death. New York City air pollution has been the cause of 1,114 deaths, and that’s not even accounting for other health impacts that air pollution causes, such as asthma attacks and hospital visits.

Pollution exposure also seems to be disproportionate among the communities of NYC. Areas where people of color typically reside are exposed to 17% more pollution than the population average. Black New Yorkers are exposed to 32% more pollution, Asian New Yorkers are exposed to 21% more pollution, and Latino New Yorkers are exposed to 5% more pollution, yet white New Yorkers are exposed to -21% of pollution. From this, it can be concluded that New York City does not do a proper job of safeguarding the marginalized communities in the city.


All-electric construction would not only benefit the environment and overall health of the community, but it would also benefit New York financially. All-electric homes are shown to be much less expensive than normal, saving about an average of $6,800, since you don’t have to pay for gas or fuel to power heating, hot water, or cooking.

Something you can do to help reduce littering or pollution in the city is to walk instead of taking a car, and putting your trash in a trash can instead of next to a trash can. For the most part, you can walk to most places in the city unless you’re going from one side of the city to the opposite end, and even so, with all the traffic, walking would still probably be faster.

Also, while trash cans can be hard to come by in the city, instead of dumping your trash on the streets, just keep it in your pockets or bags until you can dispose of it properly. I’m not at all saying that people should no longer come to the city during the holidays, or just in general, but if you do come to visit the city, just be mindful of where you’re putting your trash and make sure it goes to the right places.



NYC is extremely crowded throughout the year, especially during the holiday season. Holiday celebrations such as the New Year’s celebrations cause a lot of trash and pollution. Trash bags can often be seen littering the sides of NYC streets. Air pollution in NYC is also a big issue, giving it bad air quality that especially affects marginalized communities. Some solutions are switching to all-electric buildings, walking instead of driving in the city, and being mindful of your trash.

Stay updated and active by following the Environmental Defense Initiative on Medium and our social media platforms!

Author: Ina Sabarre

Editor: Charlotte Wang


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