Freeman Klopott of the Washington Examiner reports, “Residents and business owners in some of the District’s wealthiest neighborhoods are outraged over tickets they’ve received for up to $1,000 by the city’s trash police for having a recyclable item as small as a soda can mixed in with their trash.”
For more than a decade, the District’s Department of Public Works inspectors have ticketed residents and businesses for mixing recyclable goods with regular trash, not picking up leaves or leaving items too large for a garbage truck on the curb. But over the past several months residents and business owners – many in downtown’s Ward 2 – say the Solid Waste Education and Enforcement Program has been hitting them harder than ever before.
“We were issued a $200 citation for not recycling a single can,” said Gina Schaefer, owner of Logan Hardware near P and 14th streets, Northwest. “People always dump trash in our [trash bin], we can’t control it.”
A copy of the citation obtained by The Washington Examiner clearly shows an image of a single aluminum can surrounded by a mess of garbage. A month after Schaefer was ticketed for the can in March, the hardware store was hit with a $150 fine when a neighbor left a couch by the store’s trash.
Kloputt writes that there is a discrepancy between what the law allows and what the ticket writers accept:
It seems the ticket writers aren’t following the laws they’re supposed to enforce. District law allows for up to 30 percent of trash to be mixed with recyclable materials.
The District’s recycling web page clearly states that “[v]iolations of the District’s recycling laws are subject to tickets and fines ranging from $200 to $1500.”
The District’s Commercial Recycling Guide (Mac users must download to view) contains extensive text stating “why recycling is important” (“Recycling Reduces Energy Consumption and Greenhouse Gas Pollution,” citing an article in Popular Mechanics) and summarizes the District’s 1988 recycling ordinance as follows:
Any premises not authorized to receive municipal trash and recycling collection services, or containing a unit used for non-residential purposes, is considered a business or commercial establishment. The District of Columbia requires recycling in all commercial establishments. These include office buildings, churches, retailers, warehouses, apartment buildings (with four or more units), cooperatives, condominiums, government buildings, bars and restaurants, non-profit organizations, schools, and universities.
Under DC law all businesses located in the District of Columbia must maintain an active commercial recycling program. A commercial recycling program includes separation of recyclables from other solid waste, ensuring an adequate number of containers for separated recyclables and hiring a licensed, registered recycling hauler to regularly pick up recyclables (or, in certain circumstances, establishing a system where an entity may haul away its own recyclables).
The Guide says each of the following materials “must be stored independently from other, non-recoverable waste at the point of pickup”:
Metal Containers (clean/rinsed)
Glass Containers (clean/rinsed)
Plastic Containers* (clean/rinsed)
* narrow necked plastic bottles
The Guide is consistent with a zero-tolerance policy regarding performance:
Do not allow trash to enter recycling containers, nor recycling to enter trash containers. While recyclable paper products may be commingled among your bottles and cans (this is called ‘single stream’ recycling) your recyclables should be clean and rinsed, free of any contaminants such as food, grease, paint (and other chemical substances), animal wastes, plastic laminates, and other garbage. Note: soiled paper items such as pizza boxes typically cannot be recycled. Also, clean tissues, paper towels and napkins are not typically recyclable.
Businesses must hire a registered recycling collector or “register a self-implementation plan.” Property owners are liable for the actions of their tenants. Penalties are clearly stated:
An investigator from the Department of Public Works will periodically visit your property to ensure compliance. Violators of the District’s commercial property recycling laws are subject to fines ranging from $200 to $1500. Each Day is a Separate Offense.
In addition, the Guide contains a highlighted box with boldface type that reinforces the sense that the standards are absolute:
NOTE: Bins, dumpsters or other containers for source separation of recycling-mandated materials are not to be used for simultaneous storage of nonrecyclable wastes.
No mention is made about the purported 30% rate of contamination that Kloputt reports is allowed under ordinance. A review of the text shows there is no such provision. Section 2052.2 of Title 21 establishes a 30% threshold for waste haulers, but it does not apply to commercial (or residential) solid waste generators. The rules for commercial property owners set no performance standard short of perfection.
As for penalties, the ordinance grants the Department of Public Works little discretion. Each of the following violations triggers a fine ranging from $25 to $1,000 depending on the size of the commercial office building:
- Failure to have an approved recycling plan
- Failure to separate recyclables from other solid waste
- Failure to update a recycling plan
- Failure to separate office paper from solid waste
- Insufficient collection or [sic] recyclables
In short, Department of Public Works inspectors do not appear to be free-lancing, but rather following the ordinance as written.
This begs the question whether the wealthier residents of the District, who presumably favored the ordinance with the greatest fervor, actually intended for it to to be enforced as written. The article also doesn’t say if the DPW is issuing tickets in less affluent wards of the city.
The contents of vehicles hauling solid waste to any District of Columbia disposal
facility shall be subject to visual inspection for evidence of recyclables, as defined
in this chapter. If recyclables are detected, the driver of the vehicle shall be
required to dump the load in an area away from regular dumping activities. If,
upon separation and inspection of the vehicle’s contents, a substantial amount of
the load (approximately 30%) is determined to be recyclable, the inspector shall
issue a Notice of Violation in accordance with §2061.
2022 SEPARATION OF RECYCLABLE MATERIAL AT COMMERCIAL
2022.1 Each owner and occupant of a commercial property shall, at a minimum, separate for recycling newspaper, clean and rinsed MF&B cans and GF&B containers from the regular trash prior to setting it out for collection.
2022.2 Each owner and occupant of an office building, as defined in §2099 of this chapter, shall separate office paper from the regular trash and set it out for recycling, in addition to the materials named in §2022.1.
2022.3 Recyclable material shall be collected at least twice per month unless fewer collections have been previously approved in writing by the Director.
2022.4 A sufficient number of containers shall be provided to store such recyclables which may accumulate on the premises during the intervals between collections.
2022.5 All containers for recyclables shall be kept clean and in good repair.