D.C. trash can debacle, Part IV: Some residents say city cleanup has gone overboard


A mix of new cans and old ones awaitng pick up line an alley this month in Northwest. (Aaron C. Davis/The Washington Post)

First, the District rushed delivery of 210,000 new garbage cans in a move criticized as an election-year stunt. Then, it assumed residents wouldn’t want to relinquish that many old cans, leaving tens of thousands of abandoned ones along curbs and alleyways for more than a month. As residents began to revolt over the eyesore – and two were even arrested for carrying off unwanted ones — Mayor Vincent C. Gray last week authorized a massive expenditure of overtime to launch a citywide trash-can clean-up “blitz.”

But the “blitz,” some residents say, has gone berserk.

Less than 24 hours after announcing the rapid clean-up Friday afternoon, sanitation crews descended Saturday morning to scour upper Northwest neighborhoods where the complaints of unwanted cans had been among some of the loudest.

The problem? More than a dozen residents say city crews carried off not just their smelly 10-year-old cans but their brand-new ones too, sometimes even reaching onto private property to snag any can in sight.

“This happened behind my garage and across the alley,” wrote Chevy Chase resident Dorcas Adkins in a letter to William Howland, Gray’s director of public works. “The men seemed to deem any can outside the garages or gates as being on public property, when this is emphatically not true.”

Adkins chased down the crew, making them remove from a trash truck the cans residents had clearly marked with their street numbers and intended to keep. A resident of Verplanck Street, near American University, reported a physical altercation with a trash crew when he tried to keep his older can and put it back in his garage.

For many Chevy Chase, Crestwood and Cleveland Park residents, the clean-up came with such little warning, residents say, that those accustomed to keeping their cans along property lines in alleys behind their homes returned from errands or other weekend activities to find that they had no longer possessed any cans – new or old.

Linda Grant, spokeswoman for the public works department, said she could not immediately comment. But after not being able to get rid of trash cans for weeks, many of those who have experienced the city’s trash-can blitz firsthand offer these word of wisdom: Hide any can you want to keep.

With thousands of “Take Me!” stickers the city provided for unwanted cans having fallen off, the protocol Howland announced Friday calls for city crews to remove and destroy any cans that remain on city curbs or in public alleyways on a schedule that loosely follows the city’s weekly trash collection cycle.

Any cans left out a day after the trash could be considered trash themselves.

That may be fine and dandy on many blocks, but not in the 5300 block of Connecticut Avenue, where residents have complained that 17 homes never received new cans. This week, the city came by and picked up all the old ones, leaving residents like Simon Marks without any trash can at all.

For Marks, it’s a second sore spot. Four years ago, he said, he sent the city a check for $62.50. The District cashed it but never delivered a new can.

“Small beer, in the scheme of things,” Marks wrote in an e-mail. “But as we say in Britain, bloody irritating nonetheless.”

One resident, at least, appears likely to get his recycling can returned. A Tenleytown resident who said his can was taken from private property in an alley off Chesapeake Street e-mailed Kevin Twine, Howland’s assistant, and received a response Tuesday that was shared with his Tenleytown listerv.

“If you send me your address, I will make sure one is returned to you,” Twine wrote.

Aaron Davis covers D.C. government and politics for The Post and wants to hear your story about how D.C. works — or how it doesn’t.
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