Not long after Joe Moretti moved into his Jamaica apartment nearly two years ago he realized there was a problem.
The former Long Island City resident noticed his new neighborhood had a trash crisis, the result of illegal dumping in the LIRR tunnel on 170th Street as well as excessive littering in private lots, streets, sidewalks and even in St. Albans Memorial Park.
“This is not a way for a community to be,” Moretti said. “I had never seen anything like this. The more I walked around in Jamaica, the more I would see garbage. This had to be addressed.”
Moretti, a self-proclaimed clean-freak, began to contact the Department of Sanitation (DSNY), media outlets, and various community leaders at least once or twice a week for what he called “an embarrassment.”
As a result of his inquiries, many areas around his neighborhood have been cleaned repeatedly. However, the trash is reappearing. So Moretti is planning to start a grassroots organization with other locals that share his passion to combat the problem.
“It’s becoming too much for one person to do,” he said. “One voice is fine, but it’s better and more powerful if there are more behind it.”
According to Moretti, the problem is threefold. It starts with people who litter instead of throwing garbage in trash cans. Property owners are also to blame, he said, because many do not clean their lots and sidewalks. Finally, he said community leaders aren’t following up with the issue.
“The problem is going to be addressed,” said Yvonne Reddick, district manager of Community Board 12.
Reddick said CB12 has been asking business and land owners to clean their lots, the sidewalks and 18 inches from the curb into the street.
“If someone dumps a black bag in front of your door and you don’t see who did it, it becomes your job to remove it,” Reddick said. “You can’t wait for collection day.”
Reddick has also urged business owners to use the DSNY’s Adopt-A-Basket program, by which they can monitor chained litter baskets provided and collected by the city agency to prevent overflow.
Moretti and public officials agree that the DSNY is not to blame, because the agency has cleaned lots and picked up trash when contacted, and even posted violations and warnings to property owners that have neglected cleaning practices.
Moretti’s area in Jamaica has two scheduled weekly pickups, and residents should call 3-1-1 for any complaints of dumping or trash in private lots, said a DSNY spokesperson.
“Anything behind a fence is private property,” said Keith Mellis, of the DSNY. “We can’t just go in there and clean it.”
He added dumping, which has fines up to $20,000, is a hard issue to deal with because “it takes place in the wee hours of the morning.”
Councilmember Leroy Comrie said the garbage problem won’t go away in the near future if the community mindset and habits stay the same. It’s the reason he is willing to back Moretti’s grassroots organization.
“The only way we can do that [cleanup] is have a real campaign to get people a real respect for their neighborhood,” Comrie said.