Supercan arrived in Washington yesterday. It was not love at first sight.
Shortly, after noon, residents of the Spring Valley neighborhood in far Northwest discovered they had been selected to take part in a test of a controversial once-a-week trash collection scheme proposed by Mayor Marion Barry.
A large city truck rumbled through the area's quiet tree-lined streets and paused to deliver to each household an enormous 82-gallon green plastic garbage can -- dubbed Supercan by city officials.
City officials say the new can -- a kind of dime store Roman chariot with a lid -- will reduce injuries to city sanitation workers because it can be emptied mechanically. It is also supposed to cut costs by eliminating the need for twice-a-week garbage collection. Last year officials estimated it would also eliminate the need for 132 city jobs -- a prospect that was protested by local union officials when Barry first unveiled the proposal last October.
Yesterday, some Spring Valley residents complained that the new cans are unsightly and unwieldy, and a few -- like 73-year-old Howe Martyn -- refused to accept then.
"The first thing, is where do you stow it?" Martyn said. "The second is, how do you move it around? Do you haul it up and down the steps? I can still do it for a few years, maybe, but my wife can't."
Martyn, a professor emeritus at nearby American University, said he had philosophical objections to the new Supercan system as well.
"Here we are, making a huge capital investment for returns which are very questionable," he said. "Once again, we're reducing the number of jobs for able-bodied people. That's one thing. Then, the damn things are made from petroleum-based chemicals. In this day and age? What happened to common sense?"
City officials said the eight-week Supercan test will cost around $150,000.
In all, around 3,000 households in Wards 3, 4, 5 and 7 will receive the new cans, including Barry's neighborhood on Suitland Road SE.
"It's . . . such a tremendous thing," Karen Ryscavage, who lives around the corner from Martyn, said of the new cans. "It's such a large item for small city homes. Where are we supposed to put them? It seems funny, too, with the government in such financial problems to start something like this."
Ryscavage said she anticipated difficulty wheeling the new can up and down the stairs leading to her home. Other neighborhood residents said they dreaded trying to take the Supercans out to the street on winter mornings when walkways are slick with ice.
Maurice Fizgerald, a retired government worker, said he objected not only to the Supercan but to the lack of notice given by officials. "They just showed up," he said. "The young men and women who brought it were very polite, they did a nice job. But is this a job that should be done?"
City workers who distributed the cans yesterday told people like Martyn who refused the cans that they would still face a reduction in trash collection from twice to once a week.
Barry first proposed the new system for areas east of the Anacostia River last October but withdrew the plan after an outpouring of protest by area residents who balked at having their trash collected less frequently than in other parts of town.
Some residents also expressed fears that children could climb inside the cans and get trapped, although literature distributed by Rubbermaid, the manufacturer of Supercan, notes that "there is a supply of air" inside the cans.
Barry then embarked on the current plan, which includes the eight-week test, followed -- if all goes well -- by eventual implementation of the system all over the city, except in some row-house neighborhoods where maneuvering the cans would be all but impossible, and in inner-city Wards 1 and 2, where most trash already is hauled by private firms.
Geraldine Boykin, executive director of District Council 20 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employes -- which represents sanitation workers -- said th union was not informed of the current test.
"That shows the kind of respect the mayor has for people who work for the city," she said.
Alan Grip, spokesman for the mayor, said the administration was convinced the new system would work. "No doubt about it, it's better, he said.