City Desk

Everyone May Not Get a New Trashcan. But Does Everyone Need One?

Mayor Vince Gray announced to much fanfare last month that the Department of Public Works would start delivering new Supercans and bigger recycling bins to each District household in January. But the plan hit a major hiccup yesterday when the D.C. Council voted unanimously to reject $9 million in funding for the project, which was largely slated to be bankrolled by the city's retiree health-care fund.

Gray, according to the Post, had justified drawing the money from the fund (and decreasing the District's mandatory contribution to it next year from $107 million to $90 million) because the fund had done well recently in the stock market.

"I think it should have been approved unanimously," Gray said today. "I don't think you'll find anybody who says they are opposed to Supercans."

Council Chairman Phil Mendelson says he's all for new trash and recycling cans,  but he didn't like where the money for it was coming from.

Gray says he'll now go back to the drawing board and determine another source for the funding. A fifth of the money for the project is coming from the regular budget, so 20 percent of households will get new cans before new funding is secured.

But as the mayor scrambles to find new funding, some in the District have already questioned whether replacing every single can actually makes sense. (Under the mayor's plan, every household would receive a new trash and recycling bin, though people could opt to keep their functioning old ones as well for extra space.)

"It's a huge waste to replace the trash cans like for like when upwards of 95% of the current cans might be old but they are fully serviceable," wrote Richard Layman on the blog Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space.

According to DPW, in 2013 the agency repaired 8,216 containers and did 2,934 lid repairs. Between 2009 and 2012, DPW repaired about 15,000 cans and lids. Many of the cans are up to 12 years old. There are about 105,000 households served by DPW in the District, with each one having at least one trash can and recycling bin.

The stats suggest that as the years go one, more cans are deteriorating and are in need of repair. But they also suggest that there are plenty of cans in working condition, so if Gray's plan gets delayed, D.C. likely won't fester in its own filth immediately.

Additional reporting by Will Sommer

Photo by Perry Stein

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  • U Street area resident

    I need bigger cans and I need them now. Seriously. ANd they have to be rat-proof.

  • double income no money

    Thought the reason why, in part, DC provides garbage cans was to control rodents.

    So pick: spend $ or live with more rats.

  • Mrs. D

    Or, you know, we could provide the new cans on an as-needed basis. Picking to SLOWLY introduce the new trash cans while *still* controlling rodents. I know, that's so radical...far too complex to pull off...

  • double income no money

    @Mrs D: I'd rather have a few extra garbage cans, than a few extra rats.

    The cans don't cost much, especially when bought in quantity. But a colony of rats will thrive and multiply off of the kitchen scraps from a single household.

  • Chris hauser

    The trashment know which cans need replacing.......

  • noodlez


  • GoldCoastKid

    Bowser in 2014!!!!

    Vince Gray is GONE

  • Mrs. D

    I don't know if it would be cheaper to replace them all at once. Yes, ordering in bulk is cheaper, but economies of scale flatten out at a point and it's entirely likely that it's no cheaper to order 200,000 trash cans than 75,000 on a per-unit basis. If it IS cheaper to order them all at once, then someone needs to clearly state that case. We're running enough of a budget surplus that we can find that money SOMEWHERE if it is, in fact, measurably cheaper to order ALL the cans we need for the whole city at once.

    As for distribution, with good management, it doesn't need to cost more to replace them "as needed" over a period of time. Website: "apply for new trash can by the 15th to receive it within the first two weeks of next month." Execution: put close-by locations together into runs, fill in any under-subscribing months with new cans to non-requesting households in the area(s) where the most residents have requested new ones. Rinse, repeat.

    I never suggested that broken cans should not be replaced. In fact, the system of charging for new ones promotes people NOT replacing broken or stolen cans as necessary to control pests. I'm just saying that many people have fully functional cans and DO NOT need the new ones, for any reason. My household can't fill a current recycling bin in a week, nor a trash can in even 2. We don't NEED bigger ones. I'd rather the city have some spares around - that I don't have to pay for - when a windstorm inevitably blows our can into the street and it gets run over.

  • drez

    Replacing cans without some sort of redesign is no panacea.
    Unless the new cans have metal mesh or some other ratproof material embedded in the plastic, the rats will just chew through them just like they have chewed through the old cans.

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