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DPW again floats idea of replacing resident-owned trash cans with city cans

Extending the program citywide may cost $10 million or more. Will the roll-out result in a fee for trash and recycling pickups?

Above: Trash blows along Robinson Street in East Baltimore on Memorial Day.

Baltimore may soon be overhauling the way it collects trash.

A report on the city’s municipal trash can pilot program, due next month and expected to be positive, could signal the city’s switch from resident-owned to city-owned trash cans and recycling bins.

Rudy Chow, director of the Department of Public Works, said the pilot, which involves 9,000 residents in the Belair-Edison and Mondawmin neighborhoods of northeast and northwest Baltimore, has been promising.

City officials say they have seen 95% use of the cans in the pilot program area, a 26% increase in recycling and fewer dirty alley 311 requests.

Part of what makes the pilot successful is that it addresses one of the city’s major sanitation problems – residents who won’t put trash in cans with lids, he told a  City Council hearing last week.

The municipal trash cans are city property, assigned one to a residence and designed so that automated trash trucks can lift them up and dump them, which also helps save money on workers’ compensation claims, which Chow called a “soft cost.”

He said he hopes to expand the program throughout Baltimore.

$10 Million for Trash Cans

A citywide rollout will cost about $10 million for cans and recycling bins.

“We are looking for ways to fund it,” Chow said.

Other cities have adopted similar programs, including Cleveland, San Francisco, and Charlotte, using either municipal employees or contractors with some success, but not necessarily cost savings.

Chow’s cost estimate is likely to be on the low side.

In 2013, when the municipal trash can pilot contract was awarded, the estimate for  a complete rollout – cans for Baltimore’s other 190,000 households – was $10.55 million.

But that figure did not include modifications to city trash trucks. Eleven of the city’s 91 trash trucks were equipped with “grabber arms” to lift the cans into the truck at a cost of about $5,000 per vehicle.

At that rate, modifying the city’s other 80 trash trucks would cost at least an additional $400,000.

Fee for Trash Pickup?

Council members  at the hearing were skeptical about the new price tag.

Mary Pat Clarke, who represents northside’s 14th District, seemed to view the $10 million cost as a harbinger of the city charging fees for trash pick up – a matter DPW has floated before and is part of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s 10-year financial plan.

The 10-year plan calls for creating a “sold waste enterprise fund” financed separately from the city’s general fund, which is supported by property taxes.

The enterprise fund would establish a “pay-as-you-go” pricing system for households based on the amount of trash and recycling they use – similar to how the city charges residents for water and sewage usage.

The new fund could theoretically lower the city’s property tax rate by as much as 23 cents, according to the 10-year financial plan, but Clarke in particular was wary of a new fee structure.

“Reducing solid waste as tax supported?” she mused out loud.

“The city should not be moving in that direction. We are not a gated community,” she said. “I’m not saying that’s where it’s going. I sure don’t want to be late to that conversation. I may already be.”

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