Illustration by staff illustrator Sakura Siegel.

Most people don’t pay attention to the trash that surrounds their feet walking the streets of Jersey City. City is in the name, after all, and litter is part of it, like trees in a forest.

But for some people, it’s getting too much to bear. In fact, the litter in Jersey City is driving some people out.

“The trash problem in the heights is disgusting,” Mish Perez, a member of the Jersey City Heights Facebook Group said in a post. “I’m looking to move out the area because I hate it so much!”

It’s not just the citizens who are noticing.

Lawnstarter, a website that schedules lawn care service by matching up customers with local providers, recently did a study for 2023’s dirtiest cities in the United States. While not the dirtiest city in New Jersey — that honor goes to Newark at number two — Jersey City ranked fifth.

(Kai DeJesus / SoCul Images)

“It’s unsightly and unsanitary,” Athos Tellos, a real estate agent from Jersey City, told Slice of Culture. According to him, prospective property owners think the same.

“I can see they’re looking at all the trash,” he said. “You can see the look of discomfort with that level of litter around all the time.”

He even recalled an incident where a couple looking to move to Jersey City reconsidered their decision after looking at the litter.

The study, which also ranked U.S. cities by the quality of living conditions, amount of pollution and quality of infrastructure showed that Jersey City was the second-worst in quality of living conditions — coming just behind New York City.

Diana Shaw, a Bergen County resident said that litter usually comes from consumers who don’t care enough to put their used packaging in a garbage cans.

“It blows my mind because there are trash cans, metal trash cans, that line the street,” she said.

However, Tellos said that there’s not just nothing being done. According to him, one of the trash cans near his home was recently taken away.

He’s not alone in his observation.

“I’m noticing more and more posts about trash cans being removed, which is a bit, well, stupid,” according to Jersey Heights Facebook Group Member Heather Sporn.

“You can post, you can tag, you can email and they won’t do anything,” said another member of the Jersey Heights Facebook group. “People have been asking for years and nothing has been done.”

In March 2022, there was a voting campaign in Jersey City that allowed residents to allocate a budget to different projects throughout the city. Each ward was allowed their own project.

According to Tellos, one of the prospective projects included litter management. However, the Jersey City City Hall website shows that it was outvoted in favor of building a bus shelter and getting trees planted.

Other wards, such as Journal Square, West Side and Bergen Lafayette and Downtown, also voted to plant more trees. None chose to use their budget to mitigate the litter in Jersey City.

The New Jersey City Hall website said that Jersey City is starting a pilot program that would lessen street sweeping “in one section of the city from twice weekly each side of the street to one time per week.” This policy would hopefully improve resident parking, but decrease the amount of time the streets were cleaned.

There are avenues for citizens to help mitigate the litter problem on their own, according to the Hudson County Improvement Authority.

(Courtesy of Suzy Hazelwood)

“If a school or a faith community or a municipality or an organization in a municipality wants to do a clean-up because there is a litter issue, we provide resources and assistance,” Amanda Nesheiwat, the head of Sustainability and Community Outreach at the HCIA told Slice of Culture.

The Authority provides educational resources as well, however there’s some skepticism as to its efficacy.

“Some students don’t pay attention or care,” Shaw said.

She recalled a story where she tried to convince a student not to litter multiple times, but it wasn’t success.

Without trust in the local government to fix the problem, there’s a certain pressure on the people to keep the streets clean.

But with some people that just don’t care, it seems that there’s a long way to go to fix the litter in Jersey City. Until then, people might keep moving out.

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