A cleaner Baltimore

Our view: With some tweaks, city's trash collection changes should be approved

April 10, 2009

Trash is a five-letter word that provokes strong feelings in Baltimore. The city's twice-a-week pickup is about as basic a public service as there is in this town. And a plan by the Dixon administration to reduce twice-weekly trash collection to once a week, plus weekly pickup of recyclables, has some balking. But the proposal shouldn't be looked at as another attempt to erode city services or the city's scrimping to save a buck. It's an attempt to better manage collection, save costly landfill space and boost recycling, from which the city actually earns money.

In reviewing the mayor's proposal, the City Council has raised some legitimate concerns that should be addressed. . Council members want the trash law to reflect the commitment to pick up trash and recyclables weekly, and that's a reasonable request. They want the city to couple the start of new trash schedules and routes this summer with the hiring of 20 more inspectors who will police neighborhoods and alleys and get trash scofflaws to clean up their act - and public works officials recognize the need.

Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke also suggests beefing up the city's rat eradication program once the program goes into effect and city residents get used to the change-over. The council has to approve legislation that would change the law from twice-weekly trash pickup to the "one-plus-one" formula.

Some landlords worry that the new program will shortchange their tenants. But as a Department of Public Works spokeswoman pointed out, apartment building landlords are responsible for providing trash service for tenants and too many have been piggybacking on the city's trash service.

There's little doubt that bad trash habits are going to be hard to break, whether it's garbage bags left on street corners, trash containers without lids or trash dumped in the backyards of abandoned houses and vacant lots. City officials estimate that there are about 67 neighborhoods with trash-challenged residents. And they have the complaints to prove it. Last year, for example, the Department of Solid Waste received 37,855 calls about dirty alleys and 30,835 on dirty streets. Calls to the health department for rat eradication totaled 39,729.

City officials say a more efficient collection system will give them more time and manpower to respond to such complaints. If the new program is approved, the officials should be held to that claim. Until then, a citywide education campaign on separating trash from recyclables will go a long way toward explaining how best to adjust to the "one-plus-one" pickup formula for a cleaner Baltimore.

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