The haulers say they don’t trash the recycling every day. And City Paper’s investigation corroborates this. For every garbage truck we caught in the act of trashing the recyclables, another truck was observed acting within the law. So it’s hard to say just how pervasive the problem is.
Sometimes it’s unavoidable, according to Roderick, the president of Bowie’s. She says she can’t do anything about snow days or other “acts of God” that prevent her trucks from keeping up with stops that number 60 or 70 a day.
“It does happen, but it doesn’t happen often,” says Roderick, who attributes the trashing of the recyclables behind Politics & Prose to a snowstorm the previous Monday that had paralyzed much of the city and grounded her fleet.
“That whole week, my trash trucks—and you could have taken a lot of pictures—were cleaning up the recycling. They were told by me, especially at Politics & Prose, ‘Let’s get it cleaned up.’”
“Being closed on a Monday is a nightmare in the trash business. It’s our heaviest day,” says Roderick, 60, who has been running the day-to-day operations at Bowie’s since the mid-1990s.
At Townley Place, an apartment complex in Glover Park serviced by Bowie’s, one former and three current residents say they have watched recyclable materials carted off with the trash. Audrey Chumbis, who lived at the 40th Place NW building until about a year ago, says she often observed Bowie’s crews from her son’s bedroom window overlooking the trash and recycling bins.
“I don’t think I ever saw a recycling truck,” according to Chumbis, who says she watched garbage men throw out the trash and the recycling together week after week.
But a current resident of the same building, who observed Bowie’s trash and recycling pickups for one week in May, found it happened less frequently. He says Bowie’s crews trashed the recycling just once that week—throwing out cardboard, which had been broken down and set aside for recycling.
Carla Cohen, co-founder of Politics & Prose, who runs a monthly discussion group on global warming that draws the likes of Ward 3 Councilmember Mary M. Cheh and other high-powered city residents, says she’s appalled but not surprised by what City Paper saw behind her bookstore.
“We’ve always been worried about that. It’s definitely happened before,” Cohen says. “People are careful to separate the recycling—to have it thrown in the garbage is unacceptable,” said Cohen, who promptly called her landlord, Nick Gill.
Says Gill: “We end up paying thousands of dollars a year for the separate recycling pickups. We sure as heck are paying for it to happen, and we expect it to happen.”
But on the same day, back in March, when the Bowie’s crews trashed all the recyclables in sight, a guy emerges from the back door of a pizza joint, a few doors away from the bookstore. He has a bag of trash, which he places in one of the recently emptied Dumpsters labeled as “cardboard only.” Why? The Dumpsters are usually overflowing, he says, so people just put the trash wherever they can find room—even if that means using the recycling bins.
When asked about his disposal choice, he backs away as he speaks. He doesn’t want to be quoted.
Jason Cherkis and Justin Moyer contributed to this story.