What New Trash Rules Mean for Small Restaurants

New trash bins overflow with bags at the back exit of Mi Bella Dama Restaurant in Brooklyn.

Article and photos by Yolbeny Checo

The last thing Belkis Mencia wanted was more expenses. But in August, the owner of Mama Mecho Pollos a la Brasa, a Dominican restaurant in Bushwick, Brooklyn, found herself having to spend an extra $380 buying new trash containers.  

Just a few blocks away, Arismendy Gerez, owner of Mi Bella Dama Restaurant, had to spend an extra $1,000 buying containers for his business, too. 

Both restaurants were informed by the New York City Department of Sanitation about the new rules: All food-related businesses must use rigid containers with secure lids when setting out their trash for collection. The goal is to get the trash bags off the street to fight one of the city’s worst enemies: Rats.

Restaurant owner Belkis Mencia spent hundreds of dollars to purchase the new trash bins now required by the city.

For mom-and-pop restaurants – Mama Mecho is literally owned by my own mother – the new rules not only mean more expenses, but they also complicate the logistics of squeezing trash bags into the new required bins.

The first thing that the restaurants learned is that they were producing much more trash than their containers could handle. Gerez had to buy six new containers to bridge that gap. Each of them cost him $150. 

And then there were safety issues. Mencia’s new containers were stolen on the first day, requiring her to buy a $100 chain to lock them up. “If one could avoid the laws, it would be better,” said Mencia.

Like all commercial businesses, she has to hire a private carter to collect her trash. That’s a monthly charge of $1,000. 

Despite the added cost to businesses, pest exterminators believe the new trash rules make sense. “They are a help,” said Matt Deodato, the owner of Urban Pest Management, adding that the containers are a positive step in the right direction.  

Restaurant owners often have to chain their bins to avoid having them stolen.

Some restaurant owners support the new rules as well. “Throwing the garbage on the street is simply not an acceptable option. It’s at least an improvement over what we had before,” said Steve Sciacca, the owner of Mominette Bistro and Bushwick Bakery.

Sciacca had some of his containers stolen too. “At the bakery we lost a few of them,” he said.

Other businesses, smaller ones in fact, are stuck figuring out where to even store their bins. Many of them don’t have a yard, and the city says one alternative is to place containers 3 feet from the business. 

For businesses that offer outdoor dining, like that of Carlos Torres, whose business faces Mama Mecho, the containers make the area ugly. When bags are extracted, the containers are often left open bringing about the same odor issues experienced when bags were previously thrown onto the street. 

Sciacca says that garbage often leaks into the containers, attracting flies. “We don’t have a way of cleaning them outside,” he said. 

And that’s if you’re lucky enough to have all the bags taken. Each morning is a gamble for Mencia, as she often finds bags left behind inside the containers. She acknowledges the difficulty of extracting every bag especially when dealing with big containers, but she says it’s hard to clean them when there’s trash inside.

Leaving the bins outside can lead to fines: $50 for the first offense, $100 for the second and $200 for every subsequent offense after that. Passersby also often drop trash in them.

Despite the extra costs and hassle, Mencia says she is seeing less rats and the streets are cleaner. “That’s not to say that the problem is solved with this measure,” she said.