The San Man

img_2589.jpgBy Suzanne Pekow

On Harry Nespoli’s first morning on the job as a refuse collector for the New York City Department of Sanitation, he received an unwelcome surprise. After lifting a 55-gallon drum and heaving its contents into the back of his truck, a wet mass came spewing back out of the truck’s motorized hopper, soaking him head to toe in dead pigeons, blood and water. When Nespoli came home later that day he told his wife, “I’m not going to last.”

It was 1970 when Nespoli became a sanitation worker. He had been a pretty good college football player in Kansas and had considered bouncing around a semi-professional league for a couple of years to try his luck, but times were tough. A recession was on, and the 25-year-old Nespoli had recently married, moved back to New York, and was expecting a baby. The job as a “san man” would give him a steady paycheck, health coverage for his family, and a guaranteed retirement pension among other benefits. He was a tough guy, he reasoned. He could take it, and he did.

Nespoli worked ten years as a refuse collector before he was appointed vice president, and eventually president, of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 831: The Uniformed Sanitationmen’s Association, where he is today.

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Garbage Art

img_1613.jpgBy Brooke Edwards

New York’s garbage artists have learned not only to live with dirty streets, but to embrace them as part of the city’s landscape and even to profit from them.

“Garbage is the most abundant natural resource in New York City,” says Robert Lederman, president of a street artists’ rights group, ARTIST. “Thousands of artists, including Jackson Pollack, used paint found in the garbage,” Lederman says. “Picasso used ‘trash’ to make sculptures.” Lederman himself uses cardboard found on sidewalks for signs and makes all of his art displays from garbage he finds on the streets.

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The Watchman

Trash houseBy Kelly Magee

When John Lipscomb was in his early 20s he had a love affair that affected the next thirty years of his life. He was a young apprentice in a boatyard. She was a 60-foot wooden schooner. They spent two years together while he learned the trade of boat-building from maritime men who fought in World War II. For Lipscomb it was the beginning of a life on the water. For the next two decades he would live like a vagabond nine months out of the year doing expedition filmmaking and ocean sailing.

Although the Hudson River has improved a great deal in Lipscomb’s lifetime from a dumping ground for raw sewage and oil into a swimmable river, it has not fully outgrown its old problems. Indian Point power plant remains open, and the fish kills and groundwater pollution continue. Paint from the General Motors plant no longer turns the water strange colors, but bottles and plastic containers cover the river’s natural beaches.

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Dead RatBy Levi Davis

Rat teeth are almost as strong as steel. Rats were once pitted against dogs in fights in the back rooms of bars. Rats destroy food, spread disease, and have been known to bite people. Notorious gnawers, they are particularly attracted to wires. In his book “Rats,” Robert Sullivan says that rats cause up to 25 percent of all unsolved fire cases, 26 percent of electric-cable breaks, and 18 percent of phone cable disruptions.

Rats thrive on garbage in New York, which, according to the Department of Sanitation, collects 12,000 tons of refuse per day. There is no reliable census of rats, though some estimates for New York City have gone as high as 30 million, up from 250,000 at mid-century. The rat population across America is believed to be growing slightly faster than the human population.

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Recycling Laws Often Unenforced

Can on the streetBy Sari Krieger

Kader Aribou, manager of the Little Atlas café on West 4th Street, said his establishment hasn’t recycled anything in the year it has been open, yet the city has only fined the café once, with a $100 ticket. The fine was for not recycling cardboard, but Aribou found the notice of violation confusing because it didn’t mention recycling specifically. “They said there are days when you need to put certain things out,” Aribou said. “But it didn’t say I had to recycle.”

New York City law says all residents, schools, institutions, agencies, and commercial businesses must recycle. But some question how well the New York City Department of Sanitation enforces this law.

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Litter Policy

Litter PolicyBy Brooke Edwards

The cost of cleaning litter from the streets of New York City is equal to the gross domestic income of a small nation. The city recovers at least a portion of that cost through its ever-increasing fines for littering. Though it seems rare to hear of anyone being cited for dropping an unwanted flyer or cigarette butt on the streets, litter-related fining is a multi-million dollar source of income for the city.

According to the City Council, the city collected a combined $16.2 million in fiscal year 2006 for dirty sidewalks and curbs. However, the city might see a dent in this figure as new legislation on the hours residents can be fined takes effect.

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