Four years ago, the grassroots organization Clean Bushwick Initiative was formed to address the rampant litter problem in Bushwick and its surrounding neighborhoods. Now, severe budget cuts to the NYC Department of Sanitation (DSNY) have forced the group to increase its efforts.
“Bushwick has always had a big litter problem. We’re an underserved community in that way,” Nicole De Santis, the head of Clean Bushwick Initiative, told Bushwick Daily. “For us to have more budget cuts is certainly problematic.”
For all New Yorkers, the more than $100 million removed from the DSNY budget means fewer trucks coming by to pick up waste and less frequent emptying of public trash cans, among other things.
According to Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, the budget cuts have already “resulted in skyrocketing complaints about litter, overflowing trash cans and other sanitation issues throughout Brooklyn and the rest of the city.”
In late September, Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed sending the National Guard into the city to help with the increased sanitation issues.
De Santis, who routinely leads volunteers in block and park cleanups, told the Bushwick Daily that the coronavirus pandemic has also significantly contributed to the increased litter in Bushwick and its surrounding communities.
Particularly early on in the pandemic, De Santis said that she would see personal protective equipment, like masks and gloves, all over the streets. And since restaurants opened back up for take-out, disposable cups and food containers have been overflowing from trash cans.
“It was understandable when people were trying to get back to business, but it has gone on way too long, and it is creating a tremendous trash problem,” De Santis told Bushwick Daily.
Throughout October, Clean Bushwick Initiative has been working in partnership with Brooklyn Borough President Adams’ office and a number of local block associations to conduct large-scale cleanups in Bushwick and throughout Brooklyn.
De Santis said that she has also received an abundance of requests from Bushwick residents asking to have their blocks cleaned or inquiring about how they can start a cleanup group of their own.
Clean Bushwick Initiative prides itself in its ability to galvanize volunteers to physically clean up the neighborhood. However, the group also acknowledges that structural changes must be made.
For that reason, the group started a Change.org petition requesting that the city of New York and local council members “provide alternative resources to offset the reduced street cleaning, curbside compost pickup, and the litter basket pickup services for its 8 million residents.”
De Santis is a strong proponent of connecting with local politicians. She encourages others who want to make a change to do the same.
“If people come together to talk about these issues, highlight them, and go to their council people, you can get some positive changes,” De Santis told Bushwick Daily. “They’re incredibly accessible and supportive in whatever ways that they can be.”
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