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New York vows to fight rats on their home turf: curbside garbage piles

A rat crosses a Times Square subway platform in New York. The city has seen a 71% increase in rat complaints since 2020.
Richard Drew
/
AP
A rat crosses a Times Square subway platform in New York. The city has seen a 71% increase in rat complaints since 2020.

The city that never sleeps is trying to shut down its most popular all-night buffet, and officials are sure some famous locals won't be happy about it.

"We are about to do something that no one has had the political will or political capital to pull off over the past 50 years," explained New York's Sanitation Commissioner Jessica Tisch. "And I want to be clear: The rats are absolutely going to hate this announcement."

"But the rats don't run the city. We do."

New York is vowing to fight rats on their turf: the garbage

Starting on April 1, 2023, New Yorkers will be fined for putting their trash on the curb before 8 p.m. in the latest attempt to cull the city's rampant rat population. The current rule allows residents to begin setting out trash at 4 p.m.

New York's Sanitation Department has reported more than 21,600 rat complaints so far this year. That's a roughly 71% increase since October 2020.

City officials chalk up the rattling increase to the pandemic, when work-from-home policies and outdoor dining measures left a five o'clock shadow of sidewalk trash bags on the daily.

New York's overnight trash collectors currently haul about 5 million pounds per night — and that's just one-quarter of the total round-the-clock collection in the city. Rats, meanwhile, only require about 28 grams of food per day to survive.

Mayor Eric Adams is embracing his rat "murderer" label

This is far from the first time city officials have promised deaths by diet.

While he was Brooklyn borough president in 2019, now-Mayor Eric Adams stood above a pile of rat corpses that were lured into a vat of toxic chemicals by sunflower seeds and Oreo cookies.

"Everyone that knows me — they know one thing. I hate rats," Adams said earlier this week. "When we started killing them in Borough Hall, some of the same folks were criticizing us and called me a murderer because I was killing rats.

"Well, you know what? We're going to kill rats."

Eric Adams holds a bag of rat poison as he announces the results of a pilot program aimed at curbing the rat population in 2019.
Angela Weiss / AFP via Getty Images
/
AFP via Getty Images
Eric Adams holds a bag of rat poison as he announces the results of a pilot program aimed at curbing the rat population in 2019.

City residents are pessimistic about the plan

The persistent pest problem has already led some residents to vigilantism.

A patrol of hunting dogs has walked infested streets for nearly three decades. One Bronx building superintendent told the Daily News that he has started shooting vermin with airsoft rifles. Even Central Park herons have been spotted extinguishing rats with a single gulp.

The mayor's new plan is eliciting skepticism that a few trash-free hours could ever get sidewalks squeaky clean enough to stop the scourge.

But the rules could at least send New York scurrying into a new era, says the New York City Councilmember Shaun Abreu, who sponsored the bill.

"New Yorkers will not have to fear as many rats hide in late-night shadows or rampage through our subway system and sidewalks," he said. "Like the fax machine, typewriter, and Blackberry, our current collection schedule will soon be seen as comically archaic."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Emily Olson
Emily Olson is on a three-month assignment as a news writer and live blog editor, helping shape NPR's digital breaking news strategy.