“the ticket appears to claim that cardboard boxes stacked next to a can in the alley are a “fire hazard”

by Prince Of Petworth June 14, 2016 at 1:55 pm 41 Comments

Photo by PoPville flickr user Joseph Leonardo

“We recently moved from Mt Pleasant to Woodley. Since we recently moved, we have a lot of boxes. We got a ticket from DPW because some of our cardboard boxes of packing material, both from our stuff and from things like new furniture, were stacked on top of or next to our Supercan (there is, of course, much more than will fit in the can). Leaving aside the fact that the ticket comes certified mail, signature required, and can only be picked up between 10 and 5 at the Post Office (seriously?), the ticket appears to claim that cardboard boxes stacked next to a can in the alley are a “fire hazard.” (The alternative is that they attract vermin, but I don’t think they eat styrofoam.) Any experience with fighting tickets like this? Unpacking and furnishing a house is a process, and we’re not going to have a Supercan’s worth of garbage for some time to come.”

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  • JS

    This sounds like one of your new neighbors called DPW on you.

    • Anonymous

      Different quality of life issues in Mt Pleasant vs. Woodley…

    • anon

      My thought exactly, as a Woodley Park resident. Bunch of old busy bodies in this neighborhood.

  • houseintherear

    Cardboard boxes need to be tied or taped together for collection, and they will only take a certain amount. Learned this from experience (getting yelled at by the recycling guys a few years ago). Take the rest to the dump at Ft. Totten and you can recycle them there. The DC dump is a beautiful thing.

    • DumpsterKid

      I do wonder how neatly the boxes were stacked. In my experience, so long as the excess recycling material is neatly stacked and easy to handle (tied, taped), the DPW crew has always taken it away. That being said, you do need to be mindful of how much overflow a crew is willing to take. If necessary, break it up into multiple pickups. +1 for the Fort Totten Dump. My Councilmen keeps trying to get it moved out of my ward but love living near it!

  • PJ

    Wow, this is new. I have always stacked flat cardboard pieces between two super cans. I guess I learned something new.

  • Anonymous

    Recyclables need to go in the recycling can. I’ve heard (as houseintherear stated) that cardboard and newspapers can be “bundled” for collection, but I couldn’t find that officially stated anywhere on the DPW website so I’m not even sure about that. If you leave recyclables sitting loose, you can get ticketed for that.

    • Anonymous

      Also wanted to mention that cardboard boxes break down very easily into smaller pieces so you can fit a lot of them into the recycling bin.

    • HaileUnlikely

      I learned this years ago from hardcopy flyers received in the mail. I assume that it is still true. You are correct that this is not mentioned on their web site. I do not know but assume at my own risk that this is because the DC government isn’t very good at keeping their websites accurate and up to date. I have not encountered any communication from the DC government that bundling cardboard boxes is no longer allowed. (I realize that somebody who was not here to receive that flyer in or about 2006 would have no means of knowing that. I am perpetually disappointed with how DC govt communicates with its citizens)

      • Anonymous

        Yeah, I actually think I saw it somewhere too, but I sure can’t find any evidence of it now. And I see no reason why I shouldn’t break down my boxes so they fit in the can. I have better things to do with my time and money than fight tickets from DPW (already did it once before.)

        • HaileUnlikely

          In my experience over the years, if you have such a great quantity of cardboard boxes that they will not fit in the can, but you collapse them, cut them into about ~2 foot squares, stack them in a neat pile, and tie them up with twine, i.e., in such a way that it will be easy for the collector to pick up and he will be able to tell that you cared and you put effort into it, you will cause no hardship for them and they will not give you a ticket.

    • ah

      From DPW website:

      Cardboard and paperboard boxes (including cereal boxes without liners). Cardboard boxes must be collapsed for collection.


      • HaileUnlikely

        Yes. They don’t say anything about handling of boxes that don’t fit in the bin, though. Also, note that on this list, they say plastic bags are not allowed, but right below the list, they link to a poster that says plastic bags are allowed.

      • Anonymous

        That’s just a list of what’s acceptable for recycling. It doesn’t say anything about where to place them.

  • HaileUnlikely

    I don’t understand. Was this stuff on your property or in the alley? If it was on your property, I’m still perplexed by the ticket. If it was in the alley, was it on trash collection day? If it was not between the night before trash day and the evening of trash day, then don’t fight it, as while the “fire hazard” may be dubious, they could have gotten you for “illegal dumping” or similar instead.
    Also, as others here note, there are specific ways to dispose of large quantities of cardboard. If you have extra styrofoam and other such packing materials, those need to go in the trash, not inside of cardboard boxes piled up on top of the trash. If it doesn’t all fit in the supercan, if you bag it up properly and put the bags right next to the supercan in such a way as to give the trash collectors the idea that you actually tried, I’d be willing to bet that they’d take it and you’d be good. If you just throw stuff out there and communicate that “I don’t care, I have more important things to do,” they’re going to stick it to you because they can and you asked for it.

    I know that seems like a pain in the you know what, and believe me, when I moved into my new house, and subsequently bought new furniture, spending over an hour breaking down and bundling a whole house worth of cardboard boxes was the last thing I wanted to do, but sometimes we have to do things that don’t seem particularly important or rewarding, and disposing of household trash properly is one of those things.

    • FridayGirl

      +1. Not judging OP, but people routinely forget that you really should break down cardboard boxes and put any styrofoam or packing materials in their proper place of disposal (trash or recycling, depending on what it is). Not only will more things fit into the proper cans, it only takes a few minutes and it’s just common courtesy.

      • textdoc


  • Brightwoodian

    Plead ignorance and be polite in your letter back to DPW. We were ticketed for leaving our cans in the alley. We kept our cans against the fence in our alley along with everyone else on the block. It is a wide alley so it didnt obstruct traffic. Long story short we admitted only be a resident of DC for about a year and pleaded ignorance. A few weeks later we received a letter in the mail saying they had received our letter and they were not going to fine us for this instance. I was honestly shocked by the whole process. It was faster than I expected and a city known for making revenue on fines was empathetic to my ignorance of the law.

    • ah


      I received a citation for bulk trash I had set out for collection (and called to have picked up). I wrote a letter noting I had a bulk trash pickup scheduled. Never heard back, so assume that was enough. You may have a little bit harder of a time, but I would write and explain that you set boxes out for collection with your trash and see what happens.

      What’s the fine?

  • TJ

    How many days did the boxes sit out before trash day? It is best to put trash out the night before or early on the day of collection.

    • textdoc

      It’s not just “best” — it’s DPW’s requirement. (No bins out except between 6:30 p.m. the night before collection day and 8 p.m. on the day of collection.)

  • GS

    Probably reasonable to assume that trash needs to fit in their bins. When we moved and couldn’t fit all the boxes in one container, we posted an ad on CL free stuff and got rid of most of the boxes. The rest, we just broke them down and put them out for collection over multiple weeks. It is a bit of inconvenience, but we didn’t want the City to pay for our choices.

  • Glen

    We’ve moved quite a bit in the past few years and here’s some solutions for getting rid of moving boxes:
    1. U-haul locations have areas where you can leave used boxes for others to pick up (we did this thrice)
    2. Freecycle or Craigslist posts on free boxes (other people will come pick up free moving boxes, so this is a solution if you don’t have a vehicle)
    3. Break them down and store them in the home if you have room and recycle a portion at a time (we did this for most recent move)

  • Crysknife

    DCMR outlines container and pickup requirements for refuse. You should probably double check that you were in compliance before you challenge the ticket.

  • joel

    Alternative suggestion: You can pay a private junk removal company to just come pick up all your trash at once on a one time basis. It is really easy and they haul it out of your house at a time you pick. It is probably cheaper than another ticket from DPW. They charge by how much trash you have and how long it takes them to load it.

  • James

    Post an ad on Craigslist for free boxes. Boxes are expensive, and many people would love to take them off your hands.

    • anon

      This! I disposed of my moving boxes and packing paper easily after my last two moves by posting them for free on craigslist. Very easy. And I had the satisfaction of knowing they would be reused and not put in landfill. I collected boxes for my last move that way – previous one was a corporate move with packers supplying the boxes.

  • Dan

    Any trash I want picked up must be in the can. Fully in the can. If my bag doesn’t fit in the can and I sorta squish it halfway in, they won’t take it. If you’re lucky like me, your trash crew comes 2x a week. So gradually leak the trash out over time.

    Thems the rules, I guess.

    • ah

      Wow – totally different for me. I can usually get it all in the can, but if I have extra recycling (say, after Christmas or a big party), I’ve put it in a trash bag with a sign saying “please recycle”. Never an issue. Same for boxes – just leave them next to recycling. Guess we get the nice trash guys.

  • jaseguy

    When I first moved here, we put all of our broken down boxes in between the cans and it was completely ignored. What I had to do was spend about 3 hours and cut the boxes down into small enough pieces that they could fit in the bins. It took about 3 weeks to get completely rid of the cardboard, and it had to sit in the back of our laundry area during the time between trash/recycle pickup days as it was slowly picked up until it was all gone. If you don’t go to the dump, you will most likely have to do the same as I did.

  • K

    Sounds like you can’t really fight it. You put your trash out in the alley when you shouldn’t have. If you pilled all your trash out in the alley on a non-trash day it really was a fire and rat hazard. Along with a litter hazard. It was a crap spring and any loose trash would have gotten blown or washed into the alley and ultimately the closest catch basin.

    In the future break down the plastic and foam packaging and put it in a garbage bag. Put that bag in your super can. Breakdown all the boxes and bundle them together with twin or in another box. Keep all of this in your house until trash day. If it is to much for 1 trash day wait a few days and put it out on the next trash day (chances are you have a twice a week trash pick-up). I’ve moved a family of 5 and know how not fun it can be to break down boxes and foam after unpacking all day. But it has to be done.

    • FridayGirl


    • ah

      Rat hazard? Come on – don’t buy into the city’s claim that everything is a rat hazard. Rats want food – it’s that simple. They’re not going to chew on styrofoam peanuts or cardboard for too long – plenty of discarded chickenwings that are much more attractive.

      • textdoc

        If they’re left out for multiple days, they could make convenient “harborage” for rats. Rats always like having something to hide behind.

      • Anonymous

        They also want comfy places to hang out and eat food. A pile of junk might be such a place.

  • FireInTheSky

    Old-school burn barrel.

  • U Streeter

    If you saw the disaster scene trash heap in the ally behind my house (at least two couches, a mattress, half a headboard, several pairs of shoes, a discarded drink machine of some sort, 90% of a microwave – and that’s just a few of the recognizable items), all behind the one abandoned building, you would LOL at the idea of ticket for improperly stacked recycling.

    • textdoc

      Have you reported the stuff to 311 (category Sanitation Enforcement)? It might take two weeks, but you CAN get that stuff removed.

    • James W.

      Dude, people are horrible in this city with dumping their cr@p on the sidewalk. Even worse they pretend it’s some kind of humanitarian gesture by scribbling a “Free!” sign to hang out (like anyone wants your flea-infested, stained, hand-me-down sofa…especially now that it’s been sitting in the elements for a week). Please spend the $20 and the hour or so it takes to rent a Zipcar and haul your stuff to the dump.

      • FridayGirl

        +1. What’s even worse is people who decide to dump the crap in other people’s garbage that they pay for. My old apartment building used to have an issue with people dumping large quantities of stuff in our dumpster (or outside our dumpster) like furniture, etc. I caught some random contractors red-handed one day.

  • Joshl

    +1 for putting the boxes on craigslist. I’ve moved twice in the last 18 months and got all my boxes for free on craigslist. Posting them for free after the move meant they were gone in less than 4 hours, both times.


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