I recently spent 24 hours in Philadelphia, and I want to talk trash. Trash as in garbage, refuse, litter, rubbish. Why do I want to talk trash? Because of NYC’s wild winged predators, of course, specifically our large population of red-tailed hawks.
Let me connect the dots that lead from refuse
Simply put: Humans make garbage. Garbage feeds rats. Well-fed rats thrive, breed and raise healthy young. The growing rat population causes problems for humans. Humans use poison to eliminate rats. Red-tailed hawks eat poisoned rats and die.
Rats, like all animals, need three essentials in order to thrive: food, water and shelter. NYC provides all three in abundance. Most city rats take shelter in a vast underground empire that exists below the city streets, amid tunnels and pipelines and storm drains. They come up into the streets to feed. What do they feed on? Mostly garbage, which New York City provides to its rodents free of charge, 24 hours a day.
Open trash cans,
Open trash cans offer easy access to rats, as do bread crumbs spread for pigeons
food dropped on the street,
Starlings fight over pizza
mountains of bagged trash awaiting pick-up by the sanitation department,
It takes no time at all for a rat to gnaw through a plastic bag to feed on the rotting scraps inside.
and unsecured garbage can lids
Rats slip easily inside an open lid.
these are the gateways to health, happiness and profuse breeding in our urban rodent population.
The recent deaths of several red-tailed hawks in Manhattan has led to speculation that the birds suffered secondary poisoning after eating street rats laden with rodenticide. The bodies are being tested to find out why these apparently uninjured hawks died. In previous years, rodenticides have been identified as the cause of death for several NYC hawks, both adult and juvenile. Clearly, poisoning prey animals causes problems for NYC’s wild predators.
Riverside Park red-tail eats a rat.
I’m certainly not advocating that we protect the hawks at the expense of our quality of life. Rats have over-run my neighborhood in Morningside Heights, and I want them gone. But poisons, while sometimes necessary to control a specific infestation, will not solve the underlying problem.
I know this from experience. Here on my block is a rat burrow in the dirt around a street tree. You can see that the burrow has been covered with mesh, and that the mesh has been gnawed right through.
This has happened more times than I can count. Poison is regularly dumped down into the hole, to no avail.
Layers of signs warning of rat poison.
On Thursday, this was the scene at the rat burrow.
Are these poison packets? Right out in the open, where children or dogs could pick them up? Panning out a little, you can seen how the poison is counteracted by … trash.
As long as we feed our rats (and give them take-out coffee), we will continue to have a problem.
Okay, enough ranting. Let’s go to Philly.
Solar-powered trash compactor and recycling bin.
The area of Philly I stayed in was full of heavy-duty, double-bodied refuse containers. Small openings in the left side are for cans, bottles and paper. But the right side, the trash side, is completely enclosed. Rats can’t get in. Philly started using these trash cans a couple of years ago. They’re computerized, high-tech, solar-powered, laser-operated machines that, by compacting the trash, can hold many times as much garbage as a regular can. When they’re full, they send signals to the sanitation department to alert them.
The cans need to be emptied much less often, allowing the city to expand its recycling program. Philly insists it has cut no workers from the payrolls, but is using them to work in other areas. It also claims the pricey new cans have easily recouped their cost and are now saving the city money.
The city has also commissioned students and artists to decorate the cans as toothed and hungry creatures.
Toothy trash can.
Here’s a garbage-eating shark.
Apparently New York is trying a few of these out in Chinatown, Park Slope and other neighborhoods around the city. There are a few minor obstacles. You have to be willing to touch a potentially germ-covered handle to deposit your trash. And while virtually all the cans I saw in Philly looked clean and slick, the one at the bus stop in front of the train station, where passengers line up for the Bolt bus and Mega bus, had a wobbly handle.
Still, these seem like our best hope, along with a major education campaign, for controlling our rats.
And now, to reward you for having stayed with me through my trash talk, here’s a glimpse of non-trashy Philly.
pretty bike racks
dogs in windows
murals and garden plots
and – the reason I went to Philly in the first place – a terrific production of Sam Shepard’s Curse of the Starving Class, directed by my husband, at the wonderful Wilma Theater.
If you live in or near Philly, do go see it. It runs through April 8th.