Dear PoPville – Increase in Garbage/Recycling Fines?

Photo by PoPville flickr user Mr. T in DC

“Dear PoPville,

Has anyone else experienced an exponential increase in the trash/recycling enforcement in Dupont Circle? Over the past three months, my co-op on 20th street has received FIVE violations for “failure to separate recycling from other solid waste.” Because we are a building, not a house, the city isn’t even responsible for our trash. We have to pay a private company to pick up our trash/recyclables. Nevertheless, the DC Trash Enforcers are trolling the alleys, going through trash and recycling bins to make sure we are doing it correctly. They pick through the bags and take photographs of the trash. Photos of the offending trash are attached to the notice of violation. To date, our fines for these violations now exceed $1000.

In some cases, we have been able to pass the fine on to the individual violator because the trash police found mail with names amongst the offending trash. But in the cases where we cannot identify who put trash in the wrong place, we as a co-op have to pay for it out of our reserves. This madness is getting expensive.

My questions: why now? I’ve been here for several years and this is a first. How can we protect ourselves from this? Even if I can assure that our residents never ever ever put so much as a kleenex in a recycling bin, how do we know our neighbors aren’t putting trash in our bins? We can’t very well watch them around the clock. Is the trash company liable at all?”

Anyone else getting fined?

You think the enforcers are being overzealous or are they right on? Is it realistic to expect a building to be responsible for their bin? Are we going to be forced to put locks on our trash cans?

87 Comment

  • Where is this money going? This is just pissing people off. Take the fines and use it to help people do the right thing. Showing people how to do it will solve the problem a lot faster and with less animostiy than simply issuing fines.

  • “How can we protect ourselves from this?”

    Protect yourself from what? The enforcement of laws?

    If you suspect the violators are not residents, just lock the trash up and give everyone a key. Or install a camera above the dumpster.

    • You mean chain and lock the trash from the top? That doesn’t work and the city ADVISES against it because if you have a 25 unit building that is a mix of renters and owner/residents the renters may throw their garbage on top of they come out without the key.

  • What does the city do to the ticketed offender if the fine isn’t paid? My next door neighbors never separate, and if they even put their trash out at all the bags are just thrown over a low fence on random days and torn open by rats, then not picked up by the trash men

  • When a homeless guy puts an empty in my trash can instead of recycle, should I be held responsible?

  • That’s terrible. I think you have to lock up the dumpsters, both to prevent dumping from other sources and that should also keep the inspectors out, no? And have the coop board give folks a stern reminder about how to separate recycling from trash.

    Do you find that the volume of recycling and trash are about equal? Living in houses, I always have more recycling than trash and overfill my recycling bin.

  • I’ve heard from two separate people–one who owns a condo in a small building in Dupont and one in CH–who have gotten fines lately. The first also doesn’t have DC trash collection because of the number of units in the building. The second one was fined for trash dumped near his can by a neighbor, even with identifying mail right on the top of the bag.

    While I sympathize with people who are getting fined for stuff they didn’t do, I’m also really glad that DPW is stepping up enforcement. We have had major trash issues in my alley and it’s taken us years to get things under control. My new neighbors probably think I’m the trash Nazi, but they didn’t live here when we had football-sized rats and open bags of trash spilling everywhere.

    • Trash inspection dealing with Rats has been decreased over the past few years, not increased. The city used to inspect garbage at night to catch the food established, they no longer do. this is about recycling — a totally different department whcih has gone insane with fines. Literally ever garbage can in the city, probably even the inspectors, have somethinf that can be claimed a recycle violation

  • Perhaps the condo association could collect a fine from the violators, equal to what the city collects. So, if an individual owner’s mail is found in the improperly-sorted stuff, he pays his $100 (or whatever) to the city, AND $100 to the condo association, to replenish the reserves. He couldn’t object without admitting to being a habitual scofflaw. That might straighten out the offenders, and keep the association from going broke.

    Oh, and yes. I think the city is right to enforce laws regarding recycling. It’s the way of the future, and we’re all going to have to get used it to one way or another.

    • Nope. it is ILLEGAL to collect the fines from the violators.
      We also got several fines, all pulled out with names of the residents. But according to DCRA you CANNOT pass these fines onto residents since they are business class fines.
      My DRCA person acknowledged the law was written badly but declined to do anything about it.
      What do you mean “$100 whatever”? The fines for condos over four addresses is $1500!
      What the condo next to us did, and what we will be doing next month is enclosing and locking the garbage to keep the inspectors out. They have no right to inspect locked garbage according to the city regs. The inspectors have to call first and make an appointment for a few days later to look at garbage.

  • I would be livid.

    The city only actually picks up my recycling half of the time they are supposed to, so I am forced to put some of my already separated recyclables into the trash, just to get rid of them. If they picked up recycling like they are supposed to, I would have no problem with it.

    • houseintherear

      I’m sorry, but that’s ridiculous. Put the recyclables in paper bags by the recycling bin, not in the trash can. And call every time your pickup is missed.

      • Spare me the lecture. We do our best. Maybe you have a big enough house to store six paper bags full of recyclables. I do not.

        • houseintherear

          I have a fenced in yard, where my trashcans are kept, because they’re not legally allowed to be stored in the alley. And if I were in a condo building, I’d have big, locked trash and recycling containers. It’s not difficult.

          • Take your holier-than-thou attitude elsewhere.

          • houseintherear

            Legally-er than thou, you mean. But whatever, I guess to you laws are just suggestions.

          • No, they’re playthings. I’m a lawyer. What the heck are you?

          • Houseintherear – isn’t that nice for you! but you know what? shut up about what you’d do if you lived somewhere else. you don’t, so don’t tell others what you think is or isn’t “difficult.”

  • F’n nanny state.

  • My condo building on 19th St just got a fine last week. We just took over the board from the builders and didn’t even know it was a city requirement to recycle. The trash company we had at the time that was set up by the builder didn’t offer recycling. Our fine as from the end of April, and we had already arranged to switch trash companies on May 1 to get recycling anyway (even not knowing the requirement), which made it even more annoying.

    Apparently it is a city rule that all businesses recycle, and they include residential condo buildings in this requirement.

    There is a city Commercial Recycling Guide “” available here that details all of the rules.

    It would have been nice if the builder or city had informed us of the requirement before they just went and ticketed us. We would have been recycling if we new it was required.

    • Sorry for my crappy attempt at inserting a link.

      Here’s where you can find the Guide:

    • I agree that the first fine should be waived if the business/condo can demonstrate good faith in developing a remedy for the situation (installing locks to keep out non-residents, switching to a company that also does recycling, etc.)

    • ah

      Does the law require actual compliance? Yes, you’re required to have a recycling program. And if it’s all mixed together obviously you don’t. But it is an actual violation to put a piece of recyclable paper in the trash or a piece of trash in with the recycling? That seems like a ridiculous standard that pretty much no one can meet. DPW’s survey of households a couple of years ago showed that there was only 25-50% recycling “compliance” (i.e. only that perecent of what could be recycled in fact was) in household waste streams.

  • bfinpetworth

    Ah, stories about the “trash police.” Back in my high school days, I had a party one night when my parents were out of town. I cleaned up and took the bags of empty beer cans up to the local grocery store and used its dumpsters (illegally, but I didn’t really know that at the time). My parents returned and it seemed I got away with a very good party.

    A week later, I came home after school to a very angry mother. She informed me that the Va. Beach “Refuse Police” had stopped by with bags of beer cans and some of our mail in it. I was in deep doodoo. But like all teenagers, I was able to lie my way out of it – told my mom that some friends had dumped beer cans on the lawn as a prank. She believed it…

    Anyway, never underestimate the fortitude and cleverness of the local trash police. They will find you.

  • We used to live in DuPont and were able to get our apartment building ownership to provide recycling service only after we sent the owner a copy of the law indicating it was his obligation to provide recycling to his tenants or be subject to a fine. In that instance, just the threat of enforcement worked well. However, if the law is never enforced, then the threat of enforcement will never work again.

    Periodic increase in enforcement, even if not sustained, is part of an appropriate deterrence program.

    Didn’t the city recently announce that they would be stepping up enforcement of issues like this?

    • My office in Dupont received additional guidance on recycling a few weeks ago. It reiterated what was and was not recyclable and that it was mandatory.

  • Nuts! Abusive, intrusive and illegal – or damn well ought to be.

    Recycling is great – but this is completely unreasonable and sounds like very selective prosecution – clearly predatory and focused on a neighborhood where the govt. expects a certain standard of conscientious citizenship to pay-up.

    There’s got to be some lawyer willing to take this on.

    • houseintherear

      It’s not ridiculous. Recycling is important, and those who do not recycle should be subject to paying fines.

      Don’t like the cold spring we’re having? Or last year’s blizzards? Or tornadoes all over the place? They can all be traced back to human beings’ lack of doing necessary things like recycling over past decades. So get used to recycling, make it a part of your routine, and stop complaining.

    • +10000.

      I would love to see the trash police go thru office buildings trash, and fine them EVERDAY. We all know how much paper is thrown away in offices across this city.

      But yeah, go pick on Ward 1 residents first. Great way to go after the big fish.

      • I work in a large office building, which has recently been fined on a rather frequent basis. The office janitorial staff has been instructed to not empty anyone’s office trash cans if any recycleables are found inside. This has resulted in more recycling by some, but others just throw their recycleables away in a communial trash can that the janitorial staff than has to pick through.

      • Yep, my office has been inspected regularly, as well. And we’ve been fined for small violations (i.e. a Tyvek envelope in the recycling bin).

  • So are mail and kleenex supposed to go in the trash or recycling? This post left me questioning some dearly held assumptions.

  • I can’t remember where/when I heard this, but recycling generates revenue for municipalities so that’s likely the reason for stepped up enforcement. Targeting commerical buildings, condos and apartments is much more likely yield finable offenders than single family residences.

    Sucks but I’m glad there’s actual recycling going on. I’ve been convinced that all trucks go to the same landfill.

    • actually, depending on the material, recycling can cost more for a city. nonetheless, when externalities are factored in most jurisdictions firmly believe that increasing the rate of diversion (away from landfills/incinerators and towards reuse and recycling) serve numerous economic, social and environmental purposes.

      remember that DC is under court order to recycle 45% of its waste stream, and is only about half way to that mark.

      enforcement is completwely approproaite and totally necessary! even if people who break laws that are clear and long-standing don’t like it…

      • houseintherear

        My father used to run Waste Management for DC/MD/VA, and you’re right in saying that it can cost more… That is unless basically *everyone* is doing it, in which case the cost balances out. This is why recycling is a big law in so many countries, mainly for cost reasons. It’s sort of like an insurance pool- the more take part, the less it costs for all.

  • I have a question and a comment about this.

    1. My apartment building only has a “cardboard” bin and then a “plastic and glass bottles” bin… how do I go about recycling here? I have been putting all of my paper-related items in the “cardboard” bin. Is this wrong? I feel bad throwing away paper otherwise. I also use the “bottles” bin for anything plastic/glass related. Is this correct?

    2. I find it ridiculous that the city enforces a “you-must-recycle-or-else” law for condo buildings, yet does not provide recycling bins near the public trashcans in the vast majority of the city. When I’m walking around with a disposable bottle/can I’m either forced to carry it with me until I get home or throw it in a public trash can 🙁

    • That’s a good point. There should be more recycling bins on the street. But I think DC is unique in considerations for terrorist bombs and the like. Lots of VIPs riding through the streets and and trash receptacles have specifications that make it Not a Good Idea.

      I think.

      I can remember a time when there were hardly ANY trash cans on DC streets and then sometime after the Oklahoma City bombing and closing down PA Ave, they put out the reinforced trashcans you see now.

    • i agree there should be much better recycling in public space. the problem is, most people couldn’t care less about putting the trash and the recyclables into the proper receptacles. once the trash gets into the recycling it contaminates the load, making it ALL trash!

      this is the case on the micro level (recycling containers on the street) and the macro level (commericial haluing bins in alleys behind stores)….THAT is why the DPW enforcement people are nosing around in commerical trash and recylcing bins.

      If commercial and multi-family properties fail to seperate properly, (which is the law of the land in many cites and should not be a surprise to anyone or really THAT hard to do), there should be consequences.

      people, it may be YOUR trash when you are generating it, but once it leaves your house it becomes a societal problem that cities are obligated to regulate.

      REDUCE, RE-USE, RECYCLE. don’t blame the city for making you clean up your own damned mess!

    • I agree about the ambiguity of the “cardboard” and “bottles” bins, LCM – our building has the same ones. I do the same thing (put non-soiled paper per the DC Recycling Guide ( in the cardboard bin). Theoretically this should be fine but I don’t know if the private company that handles our recycling has specific rules that we’re unknowingly violating.

      To compound that, our building has gotten several fines in the past six months, supposedly due to residents from adjacent buildings dumping in our dumpsters (photos have been taken, dramatic letters posted – it’s getting a little silly). The dumpster is locked now, which is annoying but I guess I understand.

      Nevertheless, between our so-so building management company, the recycling company and the DC enforcement folks, there are plenty of opportunities for misinformation and confusion . . .

      • Sameasiteverwas: can you tell me how you locked the dumpsters? we are at a loss at how to secure ours. how can we keep other people from putting stuff in our bins? seems unreasonable.

  • Emmaleigh504

    Oh heck. I can be lazy about recycling sometimes, specifically when it’s that plastic container that’s been in the back of the fridge for 3 months…

    Now that I know there are actual trash police I’ll do better; I don’t want to cost my awesome building money.

  • i just wish my neighbors would collect their trash cans so that they don’t block my back gate 4 days after trash was picked up.

  • Just a comment/question about the “lock up your dumpster/enclosure” option. Our condo building (Ward 4, untouched to date by recycle patrol) has had numerous problems with neighbors using our dumpster, trash enclosure and recycle bins for their own personal dump not to mention toilet. We have explored options with our trash removal company (one of the larger in the area) about securing the enclosure with a lock, but they apparently will not deal with locked enclosures. Can’t blame them as every truck would have to have a set of keys to every enclosure they service. I would be interested to hear if anyone has experience with a trash removal company that will in fact collect from locked trash enclosures.

    • Couldn’t someone in the building keep a key to the dumpster and just unlock it the morning of the trash collection?

    • @TootsieMom – we haven’t resorted to the locked dumpster approach yet – but a building down the block did. As another commenter mentions, they just had residents responsible for unlocking the bins the morning of trash collection.

      The problem was that their neighbors and/or passers by weren’t discouraged by the locked dumpsters, they just left all their trash leaning against or on top of the bins (or simply discarded it in the adjacent parking area).

      While it probably sounds trivial to those who don’t have to deal with it, it is a constant headache for those of us who do.

    • I’m the original poster and i just spoke with our trash company, Uneeda. they have had this same problem with other clients (AND with the same inspector who keeps stinging us) so they do allow for enclosing bins. they will use their own lock and give you a key.

  • just another example of how seriously mismanaged dc is.

  • Seriously – if the trash removal is by a private company, the City should have no authority to mandate recycling. It has no involvement in the process. Why should it care if trash is sorted, as long as it is properly stored and removed.

    Spare me the ethical discussion about recycling – yes, it is the right thing to do. But if the City isn’t providing the service, how dare it impose a fine.

    • Are you also angry about the Clean Water Act? They’ll fine you if you dump motor oil in the potomac, too.

      • how is that similar?

        • It’s another place where the government imposes fines when it’s not providing the service, in order to reduce externalities. Ruby believes that people should recycle, but the government shouldn’t mandate it. I assume she believes that people shouldn’t dump toxins in rivers, and I’m wondering if she believes the government shouldn’t mandate that, either.

          • that’s a stretch.toxins in our rivers affect our quality of life directly. a business that gets the recycling contract having to deal with non recyclables thrown into the mix does not.

          • It’s the other direction that’s the real problem. Recyclables mixed with trash don’t get picked out and recycled. They wind up in the landfill or incinerator, and that’s the outcome the law is designed to avoid.

          • jcm,
            still a stretch to compare it to the clean water act.

          • except that DC doesn’t have any landfills or recycling centers. so the problem is not, in fact, theirs. all of our waste gets hauled to VA, MD or WV.

  • I would use a combination of razor wire on top of a locked gate around your locked cans. If the cans are on private property I would also pursue whatever trespassing laws they have violated. It may also be illegal to go through someones trash. Whatever they are doing it sounds illegal.

    • Ask any law enforcement agency and they will tell you that it is indeed NOT illegal to go through someone’s trash. It is a good way to find evidence for a number of crimes. The FBI has no qualms about conducting such searches and its an easy way to get evidence for a warrant to search a drug dealers house. And the courts agree.

      • It’s legal to go through someone’s trash provided it’s placed out in a public area, like the curb or an alley, because one no longer has a reasonable expectation of privacy in those situations.

        However, if trash is kept locked or on private property (in a garage, back yard, etc.) then the police can’t just rifle through it at will. Normal warrant requirements would apply in those situations.

  • i wish my business could fine clients that didn’t properly prepare information or locations that i need to do my job.

    sounds like a pretty sweet deal for waste management.
    i just have to suck it up deal with it myself.

  • I don’t think this is a new thing. Our mixed use condo building in Adams-Morgan received at least 3 fines per year. The main problems were homeless people going through the trash and leaving it scattered. Yes, we tried locking the dumpsters and then people just threw trash on or around the dumpsters making the situation even worse. Eventually we just all did our best and accepted it as a basic service fee. Pretty annoying. Especially since the fines escalate if you’ve had recent fines. So one violation was $500. And no matter how nicely you word the signs, it’s just so difficult to get a drunken Arlingtonian to separate his Pizza Mart trash from his empty Miller Lite can at 3 am…..

    • @Anonymous 12:42 I feel your pain. We’re also surrounded by SFH – most now group homes – whose residents seem to think it is perfectly acceptable to dump whatever won’t fit into their city-issued trash cans into our dumpsters (not that they pay like we do).

      Last week someone dumped weeds from their garden (at least half a foot deep) a trestle table, two TVs and an open gallon of bright orange paint. Nice.

  • Wish the trash police were more forceful on other issues. We have a big problem with people dumping bulk items in our yard (our back yard is partially fenced off — the rest is a triangle between a neighbor’s garage and an alley because the alley runs along a diagonal road).

    We have to call 311 on a regular basis to take it away. I called Public Works trash enforcement once and the woman who answered the phone told me that if we filed a complaint, we would be the ones cited for the bulk items because it was on our property. Talk about catch-22.

    • don’t worry. we just got a $75 fine for illegal dumping in the alley behind our house. best part is, they attached a picture to the citation as evidence…but it wasn’t even the alley behind our house (not behind our house, nor any other house that backs up to our alley).

      the annoying part is, everybody in our part of the alley puts their trash cans behind our house on trash day because we’re kind of in the corner. sometimes people put other stuff back there to be thrown out that the trash people won’t take (it’s clean right now, and has been for months, so the citation we got is BS…but you know, next week somebody could put a mattress back there and it would be valid). it’s annoying to think that at some point, we’re going to get cited/fined b/c people leave their crap behind our house. how to avoid the citation? do we just have to constantly call 311 for bulk pick-up?

  • Well now littering incurs a fine, too.

    No idea how they’re enforcing that or what happens to people who can’t/won’t pay, but I just can’t complain about city attempts to stay on top of trash.

    • sorry, I was responding to Anonymous 12:42. The bulk trash dumping is bigger problem and I agree the city doesn’t do enough to tackle it.

  • there are major constitutional/due process problems with that ridiculous law. if it’s a ticket, just protest it in writing citing due process. I did that once for a parking ticket and six years later the appeal is still pending.

  • I’m glad the city is stepping up and enforcing the laws. every law should be enforced. I also live in DuPont and have noticed that there are three shifts of parking enforcement folks coming through instead of the usual single shift. Very good news. I can only hope they are using the revenue to help bridge the budget gap.

    So many other laws (like picking up poop) that still need enforcement.

  • Enforcing trash rules is okay, but the rules need to be enforced then across the board.

    For example, fine those who litter. Fine those who drop trash out their car doors (even parked). Fine those who drop trash walking home from Giant.

    There are lots of brazenly residents who drop litter casually around here, and this is more offensive than strangers putting trash in the wrong container behind another’s condo.

    Second, the other poster is right. The city needs to create more cans and more recycling opportunities. If you fine people for others’ bad deeds of placing trash in their containers then eventually the residents will lock up their trash cans. What a pain that day will be, and then it will be harder to dispose of trash correctly – all around.

  • meant to say “brazenly lazy” 🙂

    • +1 for brazen lady

      Oh. I misread. We see what we want to see. Cheers to all brazen ladies, regardless.

  • Actually the rules for this unfair their are many low income developments that don’t have recycling but they only target the fines to yuppie condos

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