Getting To Zero | Open House New York

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New Yorkers generate more than two pounds of trash per person, every day.

Find out what happens to it after residents or public institutions put it on the curb or in a wastebasket on the street.

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Picking Up

Every day, more than 6,000 men and women of the Department of Sanitation collect garbage from residences and public buildings in New York City.


They work in pairs and collect more than 10,000 tons of material*OneNYC, 2014. every day. All that waste goes into the back of compactor trucks.


When trucks are full, they head to one of the city’s transfer stations—except for Manhattan residents' waste, which goes to an incinerator or transfer stations in New Jersey*DSNY Recycling and Disposal Networks, 2016; NYSDEC Transfer Station Annual Reports. 2015..

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Arriving at a Transfer Station

Transfer stations are consolidation centers for waste. They combine material from several collection trucks into containers.

Since waste will be sent out of the city, containers make long-distance travel cheaper and more efficient.


Inside the transfer station, trucks unload their content onto a lower level known as the "tipping floor".

Compaction & Containerization

Front loaders are constantly moving waste onto treadmills, which drop it into compactors.

The compacted waste forms large blocks which are loaded into orange containers.


Loading for Transportation

After leaving the transfer station, waste containers are loaded on trucks or trains for long-distance transport.

Sending it "Away"

Since New York City has no active landfills or incinerators, virtually all waste generated in NYC is sent outside the city.

Waste is transported on trains or trailer trucks, mostly to landfills.

It travels to other cities and states, located from 70 up to 600 miles away*NYSDEC Transfer Station Annual Reports. 2015..

(Click on the map to replay the animation)


Arriving at a Landfill

Waste arrives at its final destination after a long journey.

Most of these pictures are from Seneca Meadows landfill in Upstate New York, which receives hundreds of thousands of tons of waste from NYC every year.*NYSDEC Landfill Annual Reports.


Containers are tipped by lifts to dump their contents on the landfill's grounds.

Landfills are built on lined surfaces and follow environmental standards to prevent soil and water contamination.

Compacting & Covering

Heavy machinery moves, compacts, and covers the waste with soil.

This process continues until several layers of waste have been put in place.


Landfills are essentially human-made mountains of waste and can reach hundreds of feet in height.

But this is just a part of the story.

Residential and institutional waste sent to landfills respresents only about 20%*OneNYC, 2014. of all waste generated in New York City, including commercial waste and demolition debris.

Waste Journeys was created for Getting to Zero, the third installment of Open House New York’s Urban Systems Series. Getting to Zero is made possible by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts. Digital content and research by Bernardo Loureiro.

All photography courtesy of Michael Anton/DSNY; except: landfill image with birds by Justin Ritchie; all other landfill images by Sarah Condon/The Citizen.