They dutifully swallowed up your smelly trash for 10 years. Then shiny new ones arrived, and they became your trash. But when you put them alongside the curb — affixed with yellow “Take Me” stickers provided by the city — nothing happened. The trash went. The cans stayed.
Unless you were one of the dozens of D.C. residents fortunate enough to have an old trash bin stolen in recent weeks by a Washington artist, odds are your beat up old trash bins are still hanging around. Why? Here’s a quick explainer on D.C.’s trash-can debacle, and District officials’ best advice for how to finally get rid of your old ones.
1. Why are trash cans suddenly littered all over D.C.?
The District government has since March delivered more than 210,000 new “Supercans” trash bins and recycling cans to residents citywide. They were delivered with haste, by contractors. But for as yet unexplained reasons, the city’s Department of Public Works did not anticipate that residents would choose to discard nearly as many bins as they received.
In fact, far from the computerized system used to log and record the serial number of every can that was delivered, D.C. officials at first relied on an informal call-in system to begin a list of which cans residents wanted carted away.
In the first weekend after the deliveries began, officials say the city received 1,500 calls for take-aways, but thousands more simply affixed the provided sticker declaring an old bin trash and left it outside, officials say.
The city has been scrambling to catch up ever since, assigning additional crews of sanitation workers, pickup trucks and flat-beds to remove the old bins. But the system remains opaque with no published schedule of when and where crews will conduct sweeps for cans. Residents who call the city’s 311 information line are candidly told there are problems and the backlog for getting rid of cans is weeks.
2. So D.C. screwed up, what do I do with my old cans?
With temperatures forecast to stay in the 80s into the weekend, and climb into the 90s by Monday, the tens of thousands of extra trash cans strewn across the city could soon become more than an eyesore.
Complicating matters, city officials say, is that it’s no longer clear to sanitation crews which cans residents want removed, and which ones they intend to keep. The yellow “Take Me!” stickers distributed with the new cans were not waterproof and in last week’s deluge, many fell off. There is also no requirement that all decade-old cans go, said Linda Grant, spokeswoman for the Department of Public Works.
Grant said residents must take several steps to make painfully obvious to city workers that old cans are intended for collection:
1) Empty them. (cans retaining any garbage will not be collected).
2) Turn the cans upside down.
3) put them in your normal weekly collection spot.
4) If the yellow stickers are gone, fashion a new “Take Me!” post with paper or paint.
3. How long will it be before the city picks them up?
Good question. Best guess? All cans will be collected within four to six weeks. That’s the answer that was recently given to Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) whose committee oversees the public works department.
4. What about the other abandoned cans in the neighborhood?
After more than a month, on some blocks, there are hordes of abandoned cans pushed together. On others, there are ones and twos, left on sidewalks or in alleyways, some no longer bearing stickers and therefore not obvious candidates for collection.
Cleaning up the whole block will take some neighborly intervention and coordination before the cans become breeding grounds for mosquitos and rodents.
Complaints about large numbers of abandoned cans should be registered with the city’s 311 line, Grant said. Generally, neighbors will have to work together.
5. Has anyone been fired for this debacle?
Short answer, no. But there is much speculation at the Wilson Building that election-year politicking created the problem.
Council plans originally called for replacing all city trash cans over a five-year period. But Mayor Vincent C. Gray late last year sought to tap money earmarked for city retiree health costs to pay $9 million for the popular idea of replacing the 10-year-old cans. The funding scheme was shot down by the council but Gray later went ahead and tapped the city’s Contingency Cash Reserve Fund, which did not require council approval.
What’s more, many of cans arrived the weekend before the April 1 Democratic primary. For some, the timing smacked of last-minute electioneering by a vulnerable incumbent.
And while the city paid for a contractor to rapidly distribute the new cans, it left the job of collecting them to city employees.
“I’m pretty convinced that it wasn’t a coincidence,” said Cheh of the timing of the new can deliveries before the election.