Original Digital Artwork by Julian Cardenas M.

In the 1700s, rats would stow away on board ships from England that would arrive in the New World and settle for years to come. From the subway stations and between your walls, they roam everywhere in New York City. Their presence is inevitable as they are three-quarters away from having the same population as humans in the city. Oftentimes, New Yorkers don’t seem startled when they encounter a rat on their way home, school, or work because we see them so frequently that they have become part of daily NYC life. 

Throughout 2022, complaints about rats have immensely increased and initiatives to control these rodents from the new administration of Eric Adams have been taking place. However, why has it become an endless fight? Have the initiatives that the city has taken ever worked? 

According to a pest control company, “Orkin,” New York City was ranked top 2 as the “rattiest” city in the United States, before Chicago. 

A student from NYC iSchool, Kevin Serrano, expresses his opinion regarding the rank that the city of New York received. He said, “ I’m not surprised we’re in the top two because we’re extremely dirty.” And he is not wrong! 

In 2022, a survey conducted by Time Out proclaimed that NYC is the second dirtiest city in the world. The Department of Sanitation of NYC recognizes that the accumulation of garbage bags on smelly city streets have attracted rats to go and dive for food inside the trash, consequently, allowing them to feed from our food wastes. 

iSchool sophomore Angela Rosendo comments on how the city has approached the problem. She said, “The city? The way I see it is that they’ve done nothing, if they want a rat free city, they’ll have to have a trash free city. And New York is known for the opposite of that.” 

Six years ago, the city launched a 32 million dollar city-wide initiative to become 70 percent rats-free in three target areas by installing rat-proof garbage compactors. These compactors were from the brand BigBelly which promised to keep the city clean, more efficient collection of garbage, and bigger storage capacity.   

The solution seemed promising as the biggest issue that aids to an increase in rat population was being tackled. However, a documentary by Cheddar News describes the failure of the plan. They interviewed a city exterminator who concluded that “{BigBelly compactors} purpose is totally defeated by being left open– by all the stuff around the edges– so you might as well have a regular old container…they don’t work because they don’t lock them.” For this reason, the infestation of rats in the city will never seize as long as we litter or leave accessible food for mice to feed off and reproduce. 

Additionally, rats adapt very quickly to scarcity, which can be a big obstacle to the goal of eliminating them from the city. For instance, rats can survive with only 1 ounce of food and water each day, while also reproducing quickly. 

Dr. Andy Brigham, head of Science for Retonkil’s Pest Control Innovation, states that “ If we were to do nothing we would be overrun by rats… They produce very large numbers of offspring on the basis that at least some will survive long enough to produce their own litters.” For this reason, complaints keep rising of rats disturbing the peace at homes. 

According to NPR News, more than 21,600 complaints about rats have been made to New York’s sanitation department so far this year. That represents an increase of about 71% since October 2020.

Due to these concerns, Mayor Adams wanted to handle this situation by codifying the garbage set-out time and working along with the sanitation department of NYC. In October of 2022, Adams announced the newly signed legislation that instructed residents of the city to take their trash as follows: 

  • “ Place trash out after 6:00 PM in a secure container,
  •  Place trash out after 8:00 PM if putting bags directly on the curb, or
  •  If a building has nine or more residential units, the property owner may opt for a 4:00 – 7:00 AM set-out window instead. The opt-in period will run for the month of January each year, allowing DSNY to design quick and efficient routes that take effect April 1.”

After April 1st, 2023, this new law will be enforced throughout the whole city of New York. This effect promises to make the city cleaner by reducing the amount of time the trash is set out outside homes. Currently, the set out of the trash can be done after 3:00 pm, and be picked up in the morning by garbage trucks, which leaves plenty of time for rats to fetch some food inside the black bag of trash. However, This new law will bring new hope to people since it will reduce the time garbage bags are set on the streets from 1 day and a half out to approximately just 6 hours. 

Adams’s administration team feels positive about the mandate. According to New York Assembly Member Jeniffer Rajkumar, she said, “Every New Yorker deserves clean streets. It is key to our health, safety, and economic recovery.” 

New York City’s future regarding the rat population is to be determined as solutions proposed by the mayor have not yet been endorsed. The hope really lies on how effective these efforts are in the elimination of pests in the city. The city remains divided on how well these upcoming initiatives might help with the removal of rats as NYC’s mascot.

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