Trash day might get an overhaul

The Baltimore Sun

Baltimore officials are developing plans to distribute 64-gallon trash cans to all city homes as a part of a proposal to reduce garbage pickup to once a week.

The green heavy-duty plastic receptacles would include an attached lid to keep rats out and wheels for easy movement. Each city-owned can would have a bar code, assigning it to a specific address.

The design of the cans enables garbage trucks to lift and empty them automatically, helping the city to "efficiently and effectively provide better services," said Mayor Sheila Dixon.

That will be true, she said, "particularly ... where we are trying to get communities not to put out trash in bags."

Under the new trash plan - which could be in place by July - recycling pickups would increase from twice monthly to once a week in most areas, while the frequency of trash collection would drop from twice weekly to one time a week.

A plan for new cans was outlined yesterday at an investigative hearing called by City Council President Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake, as City Council members questioned officials about claims that the city's rat population could be reduced as garbage collection was decreasing.

Officials presented the cans as a solution, noting that a similar program in Buffalo, N.Y., led to a reduction in the rat population.

Dixon concurred. "We have a problem with rats in the city," said the mayor in a telephone interview after the hearing. The cans will help residents "change bad behaviors," hopefully by reducing the use of plastic bags that are vulnerable to hungry rodents. Officials also plan to increase garbage-related citations.

The program needs City Council approval, and some members have voiced concerns about reducing trash pickup. The administration plans to introduce legislation early next month. If approved, the program would begin in July.

The changes are expected to save the cash-strapped city $5.5 million a year, though the mayor said she would have pushed for the program regardless of the city's fiscal situation.

"This is all part of the overall strategic plan," Dixon said. She has stressed environmental and cleanliness efforts, including reforming the recycling program so that residents no longer had to separate paper, plastic and glass.

She noted that the changes free 22 crews to clean trash-filled alleys - a major problem in parts of the city.

If the plan is approved, the city would buy about 210,000 cans for homes. Apartment-dwellers rely on commercial service. The cost of the cans, and retrofitting the city's garbage truck fleet, is expected to be about $3 million.

Council members acknowledged that some residents will oppose the idea of fewer collection days.

While the distribution of the cans could soften the blow, Dixon said that wasn't the point: "If it makes folks feel good to get the trash cans, so be it. It is to address the issues of people taking out their trash."

The city limits residential collection to 160 gallons of refuse per address per week. With the additional recycling, officials hope most families contain their weekly trash to 64 gallons, with the balance as recyclables, said Celeste Amato, a spokeswoman for the Department of Public Works.

The Department of Public Works also plans to redraw collection routes, which have been unchanged for nearly 40 years despite significant population shifts, Amato said.

Rawlings-Blake had concerns that people might sell the cans or use them in their homes, which she said has been a problem with other city give-away programs. She noted that an earlier plan in which the city distributed about 30,000 plastic cans with "Believe" written on them. "People used them in their house as laundry baskets," she said.

The mayor said the size and shape of the new cans should discourage alternate uses.

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