In the 1970s, Central Park was full of litter and graffiti. Steel drums served as trash receptacles. Garbage and recycling trucks crossed onto lawns and pedestrian paths to reach the overflowing bins.
The Park is an incredibly different place now. After 40 years of work and partnering with the public, the Central Park Conservancy transformed the Park into a world-renowned and thriving greenspace. Our 42 million annual visitors cherish these 843 acres as an inviting oasis―free of litter―in the middle of the most populated city in the U.S.
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, appreciation for—and use of—Central Park has significantly increased. More New Yorkers than ever have turned the Park into a place for working out, communing with nature and friends, and improving their emotional wellbeing. The Conservancy’s collaboration with the public has never been more important as we all reap the benefits of this essential shared greenspace. So how do we manage so much trash and recycling, while accommodating the millions of people who rely on this iconic public space 365 days a year? Efficiently, with the help of our successful trash management and recycling program. But we could not do it without the help of Park-goers who are dedicated to keeping their backyard clean.
A Healthy Park Creates a Healthy City
Beginning with Sheep Meadow in 1980, the Conservancy removed trash cans from the interior of landscapes and placed them on nearby paths, drives, and the Park’s perimeter. This reduces vehicular traffic related to trash collection, which protects the Park’s landscapes and keeps visitors and Conservancy staff safer.
We’ve continued to reduce the number of locations throughout the Park where trash receptacles can be found. Without trash to feed on, the number of rats found in the Park decreases. And with fewer rats to compete with for food, other species, including chipmunks, have returned to Central Park throughout the years (look for them in the Ramble and North Woods)―a big win for preserving the Park’s biodiversity!
It’s not just wildlife’s health at stake. The urgent need to address public health directly led to the creation of Central Park, and 160 years later, public health is once again top of mind. Throughout the pandemic, Conservancy staff worked with our community so the Park remained clean and accessible, and this experience has showed us the incredible role proper trash management has in keeping a city and its people healthy. We cannot do it alone.
"Carry In, Carry Out"
It takes a community to help Central Park stay healthy. Our visitors have a hand in keeping the Park clean, and without your help, it wouldn’t be possible to maintain its beauty or cleanliness. Whether you actively “carry in, carry out”—carrying out any trash you bring into the Park— volunteer, or support our work, we’re thankful for your partnership.
Tools of the Trade
Many people know Central Park as one of the most famous greenspaces in the world, but they don’t know that our trash cans are iconic as well! In 2013, we installed more than 700 garbage and recycling receptacles which were specifically designed and patented for Central Park. A major upgrade from the old steel drums, these receptacles can remain outdoors year-round and hamper rodents’ ability to climb inside. They are also made from partially recycled aluminum, and their one-of-a-kind design was inspired by the slats of Central Park’s benches.
In recent years we introduced an expanded electric fleet of carts for garbage collection to replace older gas-powered versions. Quieter, with no emissions, these new carts help to make our waste management even cleaner and greener. They are tailored for specific tasks such as collecting leaves and trash, serving as a power source for tools, assisting with specific technical services, and transporting staff throughout the Park, so the Conservancy has more time to maintain the Park’s landscapes―planting shrubs and flowers and caring for our lawns, among many other tasks.
Sharing Best Practices with Parks Around New York City and the World
Trash management is a big issue in all public areas, not just Central Park. The Conservancy’s Institute for Urban Parks and Five Borough Program share our best practices and urban park management expertise with parks locally, nationally, and globally, ensuring that greenspaces within the five boroughs and beyond benefit their communities with accessible, clean, and healthy natural environments.
Read our interview with the Conservancy’s historian emerita and author of the recently released Seeing Central Park: The Official Guide, Updated and Expanded.
About the Conservancy
Whether you volunteer, donate, advocate, or work with us, or if you simply care for the Park and all it represents, you are part of the Central Park Conservancy. We rescued Central Park years ago and together we continue in its care and stewardship.
Tags: Conservancy Staff / Park Experts / First-Time Visitors
Things to See and Do
With so much time spent in New York City’s backyard, volunteers quickly discover helpful tips and special spots.
Tags: Tips for Visiting / First-Time Visitors
Central Park and the Central Park Conservancy have lost an ardent supporter: Richard “Dick” Gilder, Jr. Dick was dedicated to not just supporting the Park monetarily, but building a system to support it.