NYC's "Lost Valuables Search" lets you dig through raw garbage

I lived in NYC for a few years at the end of the 8'0s and so so so much has changed since then. (There wasn't even a Starbucks in Manhattan yet!) But one thing that hasn't changed — garbage. Towering piles of garbage bags, put out at the curb for collection. In some ways, it's the defining characteristic of the city — literally no other city in the developed world collects their trash by stacking up mountains of ugly, smelly, rat-attracting bags on the street. If you think about it, it's bonkers. 

This week's New Yorker looks at how NYC got here and the massive roadblocks and hurdles to changing the system. The subheadline doesn't pull any punches:

"The city has lived in filth for decades."

Yikes. Probably not what the tourist board wanted to read. And it doesn't get too much better after that:

Two or three times a week…large white collection trucks make their rounds, each operated by two Department of Sanitation workers, who collect the bags. In the summer, the bags reek. In the winter, they're frozen solid. When lifted, they often leak a dark, viscous juice whose smell can linger for days. 

My favorite part of this article, and something I didn't know:

Occasionally, a New Yorker will call 311, the city's all-purpose help line, to report that they have mistakenly thrown out something of great value. If their trash hasn't already gone in the pit, the caller is told to visit their local marine-transfer station, where the truck that collected their garbage will be tipped in front of them. The owner is given ninety minutes to wade through the muck to look for their discarded item, a protocol known as a Lost Valuables Search.

I would had to have accidentally thrown out a Rembrandt but everyone has a different idea of what's valuable, I guess. 

The piece goes on to look at the difficulty of using communal containers, like other cities have: 

Between parked cars, fire hydrants, bus stops, halal carts, Citi Bike racks, and dining sheds, there is little space left on the streets and sidewalks for a trash bag, let alone millions of bins. 

And that's just the beginning of a long, heavily-researched piece that digs into the ways that are being explored to revolutionize the system. If you've ever stood on the street in New York and thought "there's got to be a better way," this article is for you.