Holiday Weekends Create Trash Dilemma for Philly Renters

D.C. does garbage right. Or, why all the Dumpsters in my neighborhood are locked.

I’m just one person, living solo in Germantown on one floor of a three-story rowhouse. And since I live in a house with only three apartments, my landlord doesn’t have to provide a place to stash my trash until pickup day. Because of this, I keep my trash in my apartment until the night before trash day as city rules require.

Ordinarily, that’s no problem. How much trash can one person generate? Fill the kitchen wastebasket and put it out on trash day. Simple.

But have a bunch of people over for a party and you have a problem on your hands: lots of trash with no place to go.

Keep it in your apartment and you issue an invitation to those pesky little critters—bugs, mice, and in warm weather, flies—to pay you a visit. Keep it outside, and those critters and more may also stop by for dinner. And they don’t clean up after themselves—they leave that job to you, along with the task of bagging all their leftovers again.

That problem shouldn’t be hard to solve either, I hear you say. Buy a bigger trash can.

Then all I have to do is figure out where to stash it for the rest of the year, when I don’t need a can that big.

So when I ended up in just such a situation last weekend, I found myself in need of a creative solution to the problem.

Finding that solution turned out to be something of an education—no, make that an exercise in futility—for both me and my friend, a Washington reporter up for the weekend.

You see, in Washington, the city provides residents either 32- or 96-gallon trash cans in which to put trash until trash day. (The size of the can depends on the frequency of trash pickup; some close-in neighborhoods like the one my friend lives in have twice-a-week pickup, so they get smaller cans.) There’s a fee for the cans, but most landlords pay it and make the cans available to their tenants. They’re tall and narrow, so they don’t take up much space.

No such luck here. “Well, isn’t there some public dump where you can take trash?” my friend asked.

Turns out there is. The city calls them “Sanitation Convenience Centers,” and there are three of them, but their locations aren’t terribly convenient. One’s in upper Roxborough near the antenna farm, another’s up by the prisons in the Northeast, and the third is in the Southwest near the Automall. And none of them are open on Sundays or holidays. By the time they opened again, my friend would be back in D.C., and with him my means of hauling the stuff to the “Sanitation Convenience Center.” (I’ve seen people bring just about anything they can carry onto a SEPTA bus, but I suspect the driver would draw the line at garbage.)

So we decided we had to resort to disposing of the offending trash the Philadelphia way: By offloading it onto someone else.

The first thing we learned: Those someone elses are on to us. Either they don’t store trash outside, or if they do, they keep their Dumpsters locked up tight. If they didn’t, it’s likely they’d fill quickly with other people’s trash.

Another common option—a street wastebasket—wasn’t available to us. Besides, if the Streets Department is as efficient as the Parking Authority, someone might see us or find an address on a slip of paper, then send us a ticket.

Here, some resourceful (read: desperate) residents might opt for the ultimate out-of-sight, out-of-mind solution: Find an obscure location in some city park, drop the stuff off, and scram. But our parks already need more TLC than they currently get, and illegal dumping only makes that problem worse. Cross Wister Woods off the list.

And so, having exhausted all the other options, I had to admit defeat and just leave the trash bags on the front porch. Sure enough, the critters came calling. Fortunately for me, they didn’t have big appetites: They made no mess at all. I was able to just slip a new trash bag over the old one they chewed through.

And so it went for an entire week, until I could put the trash out at curbside on Thursday night. (Because of the holiday, regular trash pickup was delayed a day.)

Given that the schools are in crisis and the budget remains a mess, asking the city to try the Washington approach to residential waste management might be a bit much right now. But maybe, just maybe, someone in the Streets Department might want to consider it when things settle down once again.