BUSHWICK — Empty orange juice cartons, Fritos bags, yogurt containers and other remnants of kids' lunches stuffed in garbage bags on the street are luring packs of rodents outside some Bushwick schools and worsening the neighborhood's rat "crisis," locals say.
The rodent problem, which the city and Bushwick's Community Board 4 have been fighting for the past 18 months, is particularly acute at schools that lack proper trash cans and disposal methods to reduce garbage, board members and neighbors said.
Garbage outside I.S. 296 on Covert Street constantly draws rats to the area, locals said. On a recent visit, large piles of trash were seen sitting on the street next to the school, with no bins in sight.
"It's unbelievable, they're everywhere," neighbor Austin Martinez said about the rats. "They're not supposed to put their trash out on the sidewalk like that...It stays out there for three or four days at a time."
To target the problem, the community board has written the Department of Sanitation and the school requesting a joint meeting, board members said last week.
"There's going to be construction across the street... and then the rats will be displaced, but they don't go far," warned sanitation committee member Raul Rubio, predicting that the rats near the school might flock from a nearby lot to people's homes. "We want to have a sit-down with the principal and the Department of Sanitation to see what we can do."
A spokeswoman for the Department of Sanitation said the agency was "well aware of the situation at I.S. 296" and conducts frequent pick-ups at the school but lacks proper cooperation from staff there.
"The custodians are placing out refuse and recycling all times of the day," spokeswoman Kathy Dawkins said. "The Borough Superintendent and his assistant has visited the school to speak and work with the principal and custodial staff regarding the placement of refuse and recycling."
The principal of I.S. 296 did not immediately return calls and emails requesting comment, and Rubio said he had not heard back from the school.
"We don't want to blame anyone in particular, we just want to make sure everyone is on the same page," Rubio said, noting the city had increased its pickups at the school, but trash there is still a problem.
The board is also doing "site checks" at all Bushwick schools to see how they contain their trash, Rubio said.
"The amount of pickups should be enough to deal with the trash at the local schools, but from observations, trash is still piling up and creating a haven for rats to feed," the committee wrote in an explanation of the problem at last week's full board meeting.
Dawkins noted that a "designated school truck" collected trash every weeknight and three times a week during the day at I.S. 296, in addition to collecting recycling six times a week.
And in the past, representatives from the departments of Sanitation and Health emphasized that trash was the main contributor to rodents.
"If a chicken is flying out of the window to the street, rats will still have food to eat," Department of Health representative Yves René previously said of residents tossing out leftover food. "We can do baiting until we’re blue in the face. But until we all work in unison, we’ll have a rat situation."