Dear PoP – lack of sidewalk recycling bins?

Photo by PoPville flickr user Mr. T in DC

“Dear PoP,

Walking around DC, I am often pretty frustrated by the lack (or total absence) of recycling bins. Is there any reason why they are not all over town? Carrying a glass or plastic bottle all day can be pretty annoying and usually ends with me just throwing it out in a regular trash can versus holding onto it until I get home. But obviously, it doesn’t have to be this way. Why can’t the DC government put out recycling bins alongside public trash cans? At least in areas with heavy foot traffic…

With all the new bike lanes, the bag tax, and revitalization projects, it seems like DC is pretty committed to “going green.” Are there any efforts to make recycling more pedestrian-friendly? I think it is much needed and would be a great addition to the rapidly improving city.”

I hadn’t thought too much about this but now that the question has been raised, I think it’s a very good point. Searching my memory I only think I’ve seen recycling cans by the Mall (like in the photo above) and a few spots downtown. Have you guys seen recycling cans around town? Do you think it will be difficult to get more of them, in more neighborhoods?

32 Comment

  • Because it costs a lot of money. Ask your federal representative to fund it.

  • I agree more recycling cans would be great. but i bet it be a logistical headache for the city. Alot of people might not know (or not care) what to put in the recycling can. Meaning alot of pizza crusts, food containers and other non recyclable stuff will get thrown in the cans. So we’d have to fund not only the cans, but collection of said cans and someone to sort out all the non-recyclable crap that will get thrown in.

    • Easy fix. Put them right next to a regular trash can and have the recycle bins only have a circular opening large enough for plastic bottles. And I don’t buy the cost issues as Ragged Dog mentioned above. We already have recycling in our neighborhoods twice a week. How hard would it be for those trucks to also pick up recyclable cans. And if the city needs to buy more trucks and hire more people… what a perfect win-win solution. jobs and recycling.

    • I’d be more surprised if the pigs in this city actually used a bin rather than tossing their trash on the ground!

  • Given the amount of litter on the ground, I think more regular trash cans are a higher priority. Should have one on every block at least. And/or better enforcement of the littering laws. Once a week I witness someone on a metro bus throw their trash right out the window as the bus moves.

  • maybe because recycling is an action designed to make you feel good, but not actually do anything for the environment? especially if you are dealing with an input stream of waste from a recycling bin full of random crap people on the street throw in it?

  • There are a few recycling bins right next to trash cans in Chinatown. When the trash bin is full (like it was on Saturday during the rally), people just chuck their trash in the less-full recycling bin. I actively watched, then yelled at some twit in a Fenty t-shirt for tossing his trash in the recycling bin. *Shockingly,* all he did was yell something back at me (because I know how to recycle?) and left his trash in there.

    I’d love to see more recycling in DC. However, just because the infrastructure is there doesn’t mean people are smart enough to use it.

  • Recycling waste has to be sorted anyway because people at home and in offices don’t always know what to put in there and what not, so sorting out the occasional trash is not an answer to not have them. As a city people are throwing into trash tons and tons of recyclables a year. Companies make money off of recycling materials and reselling them to other companies. There is no reason not to do this other than funding, so we should find a way to fund it. It is better for the environment – less trash in the dumps, more recycled materials available for re-use.

    If we really want to get green about it, then limit your consumption of plastics, styrofoam, aluminum and other non-biodegradable products. Re-use as much as possible. Buy from bulk dispensers for things like cereals, coffee, oatmeal, peanut butter. Get meats from a butcher wrapped in paper instead of plastic and foam. Many ways to do your little bit.

    • +1 Well said!

    • have you actually seen any studies showing that municipal recycling is either a “money maker” or better for the environment?

      • Yes. You can read up on the studies by the National Resources Defense Council ( and Environment Defense Fund (

        • I’m sorry, I don’t see any studies of municipal recycling programs. However the first sentence on the NRDC’s recycling site says it all:

          “Recycling is one of the most feel-good and useful environmental practices around.”


          Don’t get me wrong – recycling in certain situations makes a ton of sense. But putting bins around to pick up plastic bottles on the street and collect them in trucks to go to the DC waste handling process is strictly a feel-good exercise that costs money and does nothing for the environment. I’d love to see a study that shows otherwise.

  • Actually we have several of them in the neighborhood around Eastern Market. They have gone in over the past year or so it seems. I think they are maitained by the local BID. While I am all for the recycling bins, that they are done by the BID as opposed to the city indicates a total abdication of responsibility on the part of the city government. Basically the businesses are taxing themselves to provide services that benefit all – the role of government, if you ask me.

    • BIDs pay for trash sweeping, recycling cans, etc because they are the source of trash. And they benefit directly from having a clean sidewalk in front of their store. The District is how many 100s of thousands of dollars in the whole. Cost sharing only makes perfect sense.

  • Where does the recycling waste end up? DC actually burns its regular trash waste for energy generation, so does it really matter whether paper and plastic end up in the regular trash?

    • no one can answer this – they just want to feel good about recycling, because it *seems* like a good idea and assuages guilt about being relatively wealthy consumers.

  • What might be even better is something I saw in Manly, Australia – they have fountains with filtered water specifically for re-filling water bottles. I’ve never seen it anywhere else, but BOY could it cut down on waste. Here’s a photo (not mine):

  • People in this city can barely manage to toss trash in the trash bins; apparently it is too much effort, what with the sidewalk being right there and all…

    If there were recycling bins they would be full of trash either threw stupidity or maliciousness. The same crowd that hates bike lanes and dog parks, would probably thing recycling cans are just another part of the “plan”.

  • I’m not sure if this was already mentioned but why not stop buying water bottles? Why not get a reusable water bottle like Sigg and implement a water filtration system. Some reusable bottles even have one built inside. Also the reduction of packaging that requires recycling also makes an even better impact. Because although recycling is good and necessary it still requires consumption of a lot of energy to break down those plastics into renewable products.

  • It is true that public recycling bins are more likely to be the recipients of general trash than home bins, and that is even more likely to be true in many parts of DC. I do not live in DC, and do not know what type of system they use. When recycling pickup became common many years ago, you had to separate paper, plastics, metal, etc. Maybe DC still uses this system. But there is now a better way, called Single Stream Recycling.

    With this system, used in my suburban locale, all recyclables go in the same bin. After pickup, they go to a central collection facility, and are then trucked to a separation facility where a combination of mechanical and human staffed conveyer belts separate the types of products, with trash thrown out by the human line workers. There was an episode of Dirty Jobs that showed this process.

    Eric in LeDroit, you seem to think that recycling is a complete waste of money that only exists to make people feel good about themselves. You ask if you can make money recycling. OF COURSE NOT! That is not the point. The aluminum and lead industries have been recycling most of their products for years. It’s not because recycled materials are magically WORTH MORE than the raw materials, it’s because recycled materials COST LESS than the raw materials. This is less true for other things like paper, but there is still a cost differential.

    To get back to my original point about single source recycling, even with trucking the stuff to a different location, and dozens of people sorting the recycling, the cost of disposing of a ton of recycling is about $45 per ton, and the cost of disposing of a ton of regular trash is about $75 per ton. That is because the recycling company can get good money for aluminum, decent money for steel, some money for plastic, and maybe a little bit for paper. So no, the sorting company doesn’t PAY my county for its recycling, but it does COST my county much less the more we recycle.

    My county apparently has about a 10% trash rate, which the sorting company thinks is high, they would prefer 5% or so. This is from all single family homes, not apartments, so it seems pretty obvious that public bins in an environment like DC would be much higher. I think the solution would be to encourage more recycling bins inside businesses and public institutions, but not on the street.

  • Actually, Fenty started a pilot program for these bins in mid-2008. I remember the press release saying that if it was effective, they would expand it to other parts of DC.

    I don’t know if they just haven’t done the follow up studies, or if the program just fizzled out, but I can’t believe it’s 2010 and we’re still asking whether recycling is worth it.

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