Together Forever Your recycling and your trash, sharing cramped quarters in the trucks of private D.C. haulers.

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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.

Our Readers Say

So basically the city passed an unenforceable recycling law so that local politicians could send out self-laudatory press releases about how forward thinking they were and no one ever bothered to check to see if the program was working or not.

The basic incompetence of our elected officials is no longer shocking.
Four years ago, I went to the dump in Montgomery County, MD, and I was stunned to see a recycling truck leave a huge load of plastic recycling in the trash section, where it was scooped up with all of the garbage. Could be that all local governments are just paying lip service to recycling, w/o follow through.
This is why our laws, leaders, and their corporate overseers cannot be trusted to seriously address climate change. Only individuals and small communities can begin by making the sacrifice of getting by with much less. If we show the way, others will follow.

This also highlights why we all need to begin growing some of our own food. If you don't have a yard, consider a community garden plot. While we're at it we need to decrease the garbage that we make by composting. Again, no yard? Try worm bins indoors!
This is an issue that I've been aware of but had my hands tied on.
Both our condo AND our office building enforce recycling as a requirement, but dispose of garbage and recycling together.
After 2 years of fastidious separating, to find out that all my hard work was completely futile, I feel lied to, and totally wasteful.
Virginia laws require recycling, enforce it with separate vehicles and also have drop zones for hauling bags and such
DC--We need to see this as an opportunity for progress--More jobs, hello! Double the trucks=double the jobs, in addition drop zones ensure that local citizens who don't have such facilities can take care of it themselves--lets take out the trash.
For the past 10 years, until last year, I lived in an 19-unit apartment building in DC. At first, there was no option to recycle, as there was only a trash dumpster in the back. Later, the landlord added a big, blue recycling dumpster, and much to my delight, I was finally able to do the right thing.

Problem was my neighbors in the other units of the building. Week after week, people continued to throw their recycling in with the trash, and then started throwing their trash in with the recycling! After a few months of this, my landlord gave up and removed the recycling bin. It was just too much of a hassle. And, frankly, I can't really blame him.

I can only blame the ghetto-ass fools I shared the building with.
We live at the 4100 W St., and twice a week I see the same thing every time: Bowie's trash service combining all of the "well separated" recycle matter in with the bulk trash. Every single time it is the same thing. I work from home and I see the same violations each time they come, and...I even video recorded it this summer. Doesn't matter if it is good weather or bad, it is always the same thing, violations.
Hi everyone -

Thanks for your comments. You can call DPW whenever you see this being done. If they hear from more residents maybe they will start enforcing this part of the recycling law. Pete, you should send that video the DPW.

I would be interested in hearing what city officials report back to any of you who complain to DPW. Please let us know by commenting on this page or you could leave a message on my blog:

I sent you an email.

Also, I have had discussions with DPW reps on the Adams Morgan list - they're searchable - in the past about this very topic. Especially about the lack of a central recycling center. Again, it's all searchable on the AM list. Thanks for the article.
Today Bowies Trash serivce showed up with a brand new truck and only took the recycled matter.
Question is...will recycled matter be taken to a recycling depot or dumped at the general refuse tranfer station with the rest of the bulk garbage?

I may send the video to DPW...


I posted your recycling article on the Adams Morgan list (the link to it, that is). Thank you for writing it BTW!

The issue came up of exactly what is a commercial building (condo or apt) - a building with 4, 3 or 2 or more units? You say two. I thought it was four. And so far two people on the AM list think it is 3.

Can you clarify?


The city's trucks pick up from single and two family houses. So the people who said three are right; Buildings with three or more units must hire their own trash and recycling haulers and file a recycling plan with the city.

Thanks for posting the story.

And, thanks to everyone for their comments.
As a representative of the private solid waste industry, I’d like to counter this article and some of the comments that have been made. It is important to keep things in perspective.

Americans have achieved incredible progress with recycling in recent decades. According to the U.S. EPA, the recycling rate has increased – from less than 10 percent of MSW generated in 1980 to over 33 percent in 2007. And disposal of waste to a landfill has decreased from 89 percent in 1980 to 54 percent of MSW in 2007. This progress largely is the result of investment in new technologies by the solid waste industry, as well as participation by businesses and residents in many communities. In fact, the statistics cited in this article – 224 citations and written warnings in Montgomery County for violating that county’s commercial recycling law or less than one per day in a county of about one million people – should hardly be viewed as representative of a systemic failure.

Is there room for improvement? Absolutely! As described in the article and in some of the online comments, there are still too many instances where individuals choose not to recycle despite having access to a recycling program. Office buildings and apartment buildings, where building maintenance staff generally serve as an intermediaries between individuals and the waste collectors who serve the building, definitely are areas where improvement is possible.

While the solid waste industry is committed to continuing to improve recycling participation rates in the future, the industry cannot enforce recycling laws – we only can facilitate them. The rest is up to individuals to observe local laws and separate recyclables for proper management. Anyone interested in learning more about America’s solid waste infrastructure should visit:

Thom Metzger
National Solid Wastes Management Association
Washington, DC
I don't get it.

It didn't seem like you countered anything, just that you tried to put a cheerier face on our recycling efforts, terrible and lackluster as they are.

(I'm trying to remember from the film Addicted to Plastic how much we recycle and I think it is as little as 5% in the US. In India, that number is 60%.)

You say "As described in the article and in some of the online comments, there are still too many instances where individuals choose not to recycle despite having access to a recycling program."

Actually this is not true. Reading the article, we learned that us apartment dwellers WANT to recycle, we wash out the containers and go and faithfully put our recyclables in the bin but it is the private contractors who do not recycle them, and it is our government that does not fine them for not doing so. INDIVIDUALS want to recycle and indeed think they are doing so. The second part of your statement, "despite having access to a recylcing program" - did you know DC does not have a central recylcing center. Anywhere? So after learning our program is a charade, we cannot even do it ourselves?

You say" While the solid waste industry is committed to continuing to improve recycling participation rates in the future, the industry cannot enforce recycling laws – we only can facilitate them."

No one is asking you to. What we want is for our government to enforce the laws on the industry. Why on earth would anyone think that an INDUSTRY can enforce any law??

No doubt the solid waste industry has made a lot of progress and is indeed relied upon for future innovation. Please go forth and innovate.
Ahh, yet another Green Failure in a long long line of Green Failures. You'd think by now they'd have gotten something right, by sheer chance if nothing else.
We need to get DC to follow a zero waste policy. Please see article below:
worse yet, at an apartment complex in Rockville, One company truck picks up the large trash bins and another seperate company sends a truck for the recylables;which are then all mixed together in that truck. Double the work, fuel and vehicles for absolutely NO recycling benefit. FRAUD.
I can't feel any surprise over this. DC government proves itself incompetent and apathetic in virtually every category across the board. Why would waste management be any different?
In many offices and businesses, recycle bins are emptied right into the regular trash by the janitorial staff. I fear that much of our recycling efforts are wasted.
DC has been mixing trash with recycling forever!!!! Go to the fort totton dump u will see for your self!!!!!
Looks like the Virginia waste haulers ( kmg and VHI) were the best at recycling an all then the dc and maryland haulers
perhaps a class action law suit might bring this to the public forefront.
Are there any current articles or investigations in to this? Has it gotten any better? And what groups are advocating to change this?
I located World Recycling Company, Cheverly Maryland from a referral, they provide residents/companies a chance to send their used paper products to a facility that can distribute the recycled goods to other companies to create recycled goods for consumer consumption. I called World Recycling Company, Cheverly Maryland to ask a few questions and the VP/General Manager answered the phone and was instantly irritated by my call. Before I asked any questions I inquired on who I was speaking with, and he confirmed his name was Doug. I asked Doug what was the process for paper goods drop off, Doug advised they normally deal with large companies and not regular residents and although I had over a ton of paper to get rid of, Doug said he has a 90 Gallon dumpster at his house that he fills weekly and the fact that I have only a ton or so to recycle is not a big deal nor does it warrant his company to reimburse anyone for such disposal when larger companies bring in tractor trailer sized loads. Doug said I should set the ton or so of paper out for normal trash pick up and if I want the little bit of money they will pay me for the paper I'm looking to drop off, I can retrieve the check at the office on the cork board in an envelope (Raising his voice)! Doug then proceeded to hang up on me. I was so disturbed by the phone conversation that I call back and spoke with Ameal who apologized for Doug's rudeness. I found that Doug was very adamant that only Big Businesses and Corporations were the clients he wanted to entertain or even be cordial with. Doug wasn't aware that I was referred by one of his account holders and because of this encounter I'm surprised my referral even deals with his company. Recycling is not just for Big Business and Corporations but as a collective group we help to achieve the final result which is less waste along with helping Doug's company (World Recycling Company, Cheverly Maryland) profitability...unless Doug's company is running a non-profit volunteer organization?

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