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Some in city to get trash cans on wheels to fight rats

TheftStephanie Rawlings-Blake

Baltimore plans to give more than 9,000 households huge plastic trash cans on wheels — complete with tracking devices to prevent theft — under a pilot program that, if successful, could lead to a $10 million citywide expansion.

The plan is aimed at fighting both litter and rats. The city's Board of Estimates is expected to approve the $578,000 test venture Wednesday.

"Not having a trash can is actually a very big factor in rat infestation," said Valentina Ukwuoma, head of the Bureau of Solid Waste. "The rats chew up the trash bags, and as long as there is a food source, rats will continue to multiply."

The 64-gallon Toter trash containers will go first to residents of Belair-Edison in Northeast Baltimore and the greater Mondawmin area on the west side.

Washington began giving its residents 96-gallon receptacles about 20 years ago, but most area governments only provide recycling bins, including Baltimore City and Howard and Anne Arundel counties. Residents in Harford County can rent trash or recycling cans from their waste haulers.

The two-wheel Toter receptacles are made of durable plastic with an attached, tight-fitting lid and come equipped with a tracking device — either an embedded radio frequency chip or a bar code. The manufacturer says the carts, which cost about $40 each, are designed to stay upright on windy days.

Margaret Tate, who lives on Tioga Parkway near Mondawmin Mall, says she expects the free cans will make it easier for residents to keep the city clean. "We need them — we do a lot of cleaning up around here," said the 61-year-old retired housekeeper with a tidy yard and litter-free alleyway.

But Alex Williamson, a 53-year-old electrician from Belair-Edison, is skeptical the new cans will solve the city's litter and rat troubles. He thinks the money would be better spent on returning to twice-weekly trash pickup.

"Rats around here eat the plastic. They'd have to be good plastic — gotta be thick," said Williamson, who bought steel cans to keep rats away and chains to stop people from stealing them.

His neighbors, Veronica Clifton and Angela Green, are anxious to get the new receptacles, especially for the attached lid. "A lot of time, you put the trash out and the lid's gone and then you get a fine," said Clifton, 50, who works as a baby sitter.

City officials briefly considered distributing such cans in 2009 as part of the plan to reduce garbage pickup in the city from two days to one. The idea was abandoned after residents in neighborhoods with narrow alleys complained that the cans wouldn't fit.

Ukwuoma said the neighborhoods selected for the pilot program were chosen because of a diversity of housing types, including vacant properties, rowhouses and detached homes. They also feature wide alleyways and engaged residents.

"For this program, we are going to go out there to collect data, and we want communities that could reflect citywide the demographics," she said.

If the pilot program shows cleaner alleys and fewer rats after six months or a year, Ukwuoma said, the Solid Waste Bureau will look to expand the program citywide. Money for the test endeavor will come from the bureau's general funds.

The receptacles will be tracked so the bins can be returned if they turn up elsewhere in the city, Ukwuoma said. Tracking will also allow city officials to see whether the residents living in the homes to which the bins are assigned use them.

The last time the city gave out trash cans — 30,000 rubber cans stamped with the "Believe" logo under then-Mayor Martin O'Malley — residents found other uses for them.

"A lot of people thought it was too pretty to be used as a trash can," Ukwuoma said. "They used them as laundry baskets, garage storage bins. We didn't see them in the alleys."

This time, she said, officials are hoping the cans will be used "for what they're supposed to be used for — your trash."

In addition to fewer dumping complaints and spending less on rat abatement, Ukwuoma said officials expect the new containers will result in fewer worker compensation claims. Sanitation workers can wheel the carts out to the trucks and tip them off a lift instead of dragging and hoisting the cans, which can lead to injuries.

Ukwuoma said about 10 of the city's 91 garbage trucks have been retrofitted with lifts at a cost of about $5,000 apiece to accommodate the rolling containers.

She suggested that residents in the pilot neighborhoods could use their old trash cans for recyclables.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake is hopeful that the new trash cans will help achieve one of her primary goals of making Baltimore a cleaner city.

"As a result of this program, we expect less improper trash disposal, less illegal dumping, less rat infestation and more recycling," said Caron A. Brace, the mayor's press secretary.

Baltimore Sun reporter Luke Broadwater contributed to this article.

ywenger@baltsun.com

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