Baltimore residents see fewer rats with new municipal trash cans (though some say the big green barrels are ugly)

City-issued trash cans cost Baltimore $9M. Residents say it's worth the money, despite thinking they're ugly.

Many Baltimore residents say fewer rats are scurrying around their neighborhoods and less litter is trashing streets and alleys.

From Highlandtown to Howard Park and Belair-Edison to Barre Circle, citizens credit enormous, city-provided trash cans with cutting down on the number of four-legged vermin and keeping loose household trash from reaching the Chesapeake Bay.

Officials say the 65-gallon behemoths (and their diminutive alternative, a 35-gallon receptacle available upon request) have reduced requests for rat extermination by nearly 34 percent since August.

Mark Parker of Highlandtown said he used to see plastic trash bags spilling from too-small cans. Or the bags would be plopped on sidewalks, to the delight of rats, feral cats and the occasional raccoon, opossum or fox. But not since delivery of the 170,000 new trash cans began in March.

"Nobody thinks it looks good to have a row of monster green trash cans lining your street, but I'll trade that for rats any day," he said.

Ask residents throughout Baltimore's 81 square miles of land and 250 neighborhoods how they like the cans, and many say it's one program the often-maligned city government got right.

Think "big green soldiers reporting for duty" rather than "monster green trash cans," says Jeffrey Raymond, a spokesman for Baltimore's Department of Public Works.

To be sure, there are those who think the "monster" moniker is appropriate.

Among them is Dan Harrison, who says the cans are too big to store in the tiny alley behind his block in Upper Fells Point. Some in the neighborhood just leave the ugly barrels out front, marring the view along the picturesque street, he said.

He got the smaller 35-gallon version, which he hauls through his rowhouse each Tuesday evening to put out front for pickup the next day. "The bigger can wouldn't have gone through the front door," Harrison said.

While he's not a fan of the aesthetics of the new cans, "I am in favor of less rats," he said.

Liz Bement, vice president of the Upper Fells Point Improvement Association, said residents have asked for meetings with city officials to talk about options for the compact neighborhood, with homes that tend to be under 1,000 square feet.

Some worry what the sight — and smell — of the trash cans out front of homes seven days a week does to home values and sales. Another concern is the space the cans take up on the sidewalk and obstacles they create for pedestrians.

"The city did a lot of good, but the trash cans just don't work in our small, tight, front pick-up neighborhood," Bement said. "I don't know what the answer is, but I hope we can find a solution."

The community group has distributed fliers in English and Spanish warning of citations the city can issue for leaving the cans out front of homes all week long. Code enforcement officers handed out 145 such citations last year, but housing officials say such enforcement is done sparingly and only in response to complaints.

Baltimore's program was modeled after successful ones in San Francisco, Charlotte, N.C., and Washington, which first gave residents 96-gallon trash cans about 20 years ago.

The Baltimore cans are emblazoned with the city seal and stamped with serial numbers. A tracking device is embedded in the plastic to help officials recover stolen cans. So far, 2,200 have been reported to 311 as being lost or stolen, Raymond said.

The city spent $9 million to buy the cans after a pilot program showed the sanitation advantages. And public works crews were injured less often during the pilot: The trucks are equipped with mechanical lifts to empty the cans so workers don't have to heave the trash themselves, though some employees don't use them.

James Wolf, a 6-year resident of another dense neighborhood, Ridgely's Delight in South Baltimore, said he went on a "crusade" against the trash cans when they were first handed out. The size seemed outrageously large, but in the months since, he has come around.

"It's nice to see something done that has noticeable results," Wolf said. "We used to see two or three rats going down our street a night. The trash cans came, and we rarely ever see them."

Councilman Brandon Scott said he can't tell whether the trash cans have been effective because hundreds of residents in his neighborhood have only just received them, even though public works said the distribution was effectively complete in July.

"Some vacant homes had trash cans, but not housing with people inside," Scott said.

In Belair-Edison, community association president Rita Crews said it is hard to find a resident not thrilled with the cans and the results they've seen. They're large enough to hold a week's worth of garbage, the tight-fitting lids don't fly off in wind gusts and the wheels make them easy to maneuver.

"The trash can program in Belair-Edison is receiving rave reviews," Crews said. "Some people want two."

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