Annapolis officials are considering a plan to remove trash cans from city parks, a strategy they say would save money and could keep public spaces cleaner.

Without trash cans, officials said, visitors would take refuse with them or learn to not produce it in the first place. Other parks across the country have adopted such "trash-free" policies, including all Maryland state parks and scores of national parks, which urge visitors to "leave no trace."

In Annapolis, the idea comes amid broader changes that, for the first time, shifted city trash service into private hands to cut costs. The new contractor that took over residential services in September was not hired to empty trash cans in city parks, forcing officials to find a remedy.

Annapolis initially announced it would take away every trash can in every park this fall — then quietly rolled back the plan when some residents balked.

"It was announced as fait accompli," said Kurt Riegel of the city's environmental commission. "A number of us puzzled over whether it had been vetted with the public or not."

Mayor Joshua Cohen said it had not, which was part of the reason he vetoed it.

But faced with the new outsourced trash collection program, Parks Director Brian Woodward said the plan for trash can-free parks remains alive and will likely be tested in the future in a pilot program at parks that more closely resemble nature preserves.

"We will probably try it at some of the parks where we have an opportunity for it to succeed," Woodward said.

The city initially announced that the no-trash-can policy in parks would take effect the same day Annapolis turned over refuse operations to the contractor, closing the city's trash department. But the Sept. 10 switch brought other changes that have frustrated residents, reducing collection to once a week from twice and creating confusion over when yard waste would be picked up.

Residents lodged more than 400 complaints in the first month, officials said. Taking away trash cans in city parks seemed like too much change at once, officials said.

"The timing was unfortunate," Woodward said, adding that the new policy is a "180-degree reversal" from that announcement.

In general, "trash-free" policies are meant to save money and lessen the human impact on nature. Delaware adopted the policy in 1994 specifically to cut costs, as did Montgomery County in 2003, to mixed reviews.

Woodward worked in Montgomery County when the local government removed trash cans from parks except for large regional ones. The government there later reversed the measure and reinstalled some trash cans, but many remain can-free. Woodward called the move a "catastrophic failure."

"At least for some of the parks, it didn't make sense," Woodward said.

He said trash can removal would not be considered for downtown Annapolis parks.

A mothers group at a popular downtown playground beside Annapolis Elementary School found the concept troubling.

"That would be bad," said Kate Dooley, the mother of four sons under 6 years old. "I'm thinking about the amount of trash my boys produce. I don't want to carry that with me."

Jodi Osier, mother of a 3-year-old, said the idea seemed counterintuitive.

"Why don't you add a recycle bin if you want us to be greener?" Osier said. "I'd recycle."

Patricia Linton lives beside a tiny waterfront park in West Annapolis where boaters can come ashore. She thinks the policy won't work, as evidenced by what happened during the boat shows last month. Trash cans formerly emptied by city workers were left unattended, she said.

"By Friday, it was piled all over the place," Linton said. "The sign that's there says no dumping."

For now, Cohen said, he has asked employees in the Public Works Department to continue emptying cans at city parks until a permanent solution can be found. He said he likes the concept of going trash-free, but said he's leaning toward installing recycle bins.

"Every town has its own culture," Cohen said. "It's not like we're talking about 100-acre national parks where people go camping. ... It would just be asking for clutter in parks, and we want to make it easier for people to clean up after themselves."

ecox@baltsun.com