NYC leans on restaurants to make life harder for rats

The Sanitation Department said it will start fining food establishments that don't use garbage cans that keep the rodents out.
New York is contending with a rat infestation. It now has a rat czar leading the eradication effort. | Photo: Shutterstock

As part of New York City’s efforts to counter a rat infestation, the Department of Sanitation said it will start fining restaurants that fail to store organic garbage streetside in rigid containers with a tight-fitting lid.

The new receptacles are intended to deny the vermin access to food scraps. Many restaurants have been using sealed heavy plastic garbage bags to hold organic waste awaiting pickup. But the bags often leak or rip and can be easily torn open, providing the rodents with ample sustenance.

The law also obliges operators to put their garbage out by the curb no earlier than 8 p.m.

The container requirements do not apply to recyclable materials set out for collection, nor to establishments where the garbage is picked up from a loading dock.

Places that fail to meet the new requirements will be fined $50 for a first infraction, $100 for a second violation and $200 for each failure thereafter.

The law went into effect at the start of August, but foodservice establishments were given a one-month grace period to switch to the newly required containers. About 21,500 notices of violations were issued as warnings during the phase-in, according to the Sanitation Department.

As of Sept. 5, chain businesses outside of the restaurant industry will begin their one-month grace period. As of Oct. 1, about 5 million pounds of garbage per day will now be stored in rat-proof containers before being processed, Sanitation says.

The rat population of New York City has soared in recent years, prompting the nation’s largest urban center to try everything from rodent contraceptives to a broader use of poison. It’s even appointed a “rat czar” to lead the effort of holding down the rodent population.

Entrepreneurs, meanwhile, have seized on the increased population to offer a new experience to out-of-town visitors: Tours of garbage piles and other locations where the rats openly frolic.

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