City Desk

DPW Goes Through Trash, City Paper Writer Goes on Kojo

Tune in to Kojo Nnamdi tomorrow if you want to learn all the dirty details of recycling in D.C.! Among the scheduled guests: Washington City Paper freelancer Christine MacDonald and D.C. Department of Public Works' recycling officer Bill Easley.

This is a topic near and dear to City Paper's heart, which is why we bring it up. MacDonald wrote a cover story for the paper in November cataloging multiple instances of private D.C. haulers mixing recycling and trash on their rounds. She also criticized DPW for failing to crack down on violators.

dumpster-231x300Cue the dramatic music: A few weeks later, City Paper itself received a recycling violation in the mail. Inspector Kayanda Jones had discovered trash mixed in with the recycling-only Dumpster behind 2390 Champlain Street NW and written a $50 ticket. There was even a picture!

The timing of this seemed curious. Was it retribution, City Paper asked DPW at the time? (DPW's response: "Of course not.")

Since then, DPW has provided answers to a few questions we asked about how the whole thing went down.

For instance, were there other violations written on the same day in the same area? Turns out, there were: The department provided copies of five other violations observed by the same inspector on the same day, Nov. 16. The 7-Eleven on Mount Pleasant Street was cited for "failure to have sufficient number of containers for separated recyclables," and Queen's Cafe & Hookah on 18th Street was cited for "failure to separate recycling from other solid waste," the same violation issued to City Paper.

Did someone make a complaint to prompt the inspection? Often, DPW spokesperson Nancee Lyons said at the time, that is how inspections come about. "No complaint was filed about the dumpsters behind 2390 Champlain Street. The investigator is assigned to Ward 1 and was working in that section of the ward," Christine V. Davis, the department's general counsel, wrote.

And why was the citation written to Washington City Paper, which does not own the building, but rather is one of several tenants in it? "The materials in the dumpster had the City Paper's name on it."

We wonder what else DPW learned going through our trash.

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  • sigmund freud

    City Paper: you should do a follow-up or even ask the DPW guy on air about the Examiner report last week on the fraudulent overtime by DPW workers.

  • Virginia

    I testified at the hearing Graham held last week, mostly inspired from reading the CP article on (non)recycling.

    I also sent in a question to Kojo's show since I probably won't be able to call in, some of it is below.

    It should be pointed out that DC has two separate programs for DC residents: a good one (for those who live in houses) and a mediocre one (for those who live in condos and apartments).

    After testifying and watching the hearing, I came away not too jazzed about the future of recycling in our nation's capital.

    One, the head of DPW, William Howland, didn't know how many commercial recycling plans are in place currently when asked by Graham, but brakeman of recycling enthusiasm that he is, he sure did have the numbers on how many tickets DPW investigators would have to write to be 'profitable.' While Graham was trying to push hiring more investigators, to a paltry six, Mr Howland didn't seem to think it would make much difference. In fact, he stated that recycling is not profitable!

    Enforcement is where the real action is. The hauler who testified at the hearing noted that 20% of haulers do not comply with recycling laws.

    Another reason we have such a weak program, is that there is just no bold thinking – no true leader on this issue, unlike the bag tax, which was a bold move, and was needed.

    Finally, think of all the people who live in apartment buildings. Is it possible that these residents make up the majority? In a city of post grads in environmental this and that, how many of these residents showed up to testify on commercial recycling? One.

  • denise

    If we could only get them to respond to the numerous complaints about residential trash dumping in the park trashcans in the 1700 block of Park road, a mere 2 blocks from the 7-11 cited, which at the time the tickets were written had full garbage bags, a toaster. The bags are full of mail from some residents of an apartment building (more than one) in the 3300 blcok of Mt. Pleasant who find it more convenient to use the park than walk around to their trash site. Oddly due to the heavy amount of trash, 2 trash cans were removed from the park. DPW and the SWEEP office in particular have been called numerous times.

  • Virginia

    Recycling is not rocket science. Yet, it's impossible for the discussion in DC (any discussion) to move beyond a kindegarten, I-can-read level. And yet: we-can't-recycle.

    I tried to get through via email to the show, no luck. The DPW guest was typically competent, but compared to what is needed, not so great (not his fault really), and the host challenged little.

    Again, we do not have a recycling center in the city. The DPW guest said for places to take your recyclables to, to look in the yellow pages. The yellow pages!!!!!!!!

    Kojo said that because DC's private haulers take much of their stuff out of the city that it can't be tracked. The Sierra Club witness at last week's hearing challenged that. Kojo took it at face value.

    Fwiw, Montgomery County is light years ahead of DC in terms of waste management.