Baltimore’s Battle to Beat Garbage on the Streets of Charm City

Cheryl McMullen, Freelance writer

November 6, 2015

4 Min Read
Baltimore’s Battle to Beat Garbage on the Streets of Charm City

Down by the Inner Harbor and across the city of Baltimore, you see it. It is trash, and it’s littering the streets. But Charm City is fighting back thanks to a motivated administration and programs like city-provided trash cans and the newly announced Clean Corps that are inspiring residents to rid the streets of litter and waste.

Last year, the city piloted municipal trash cans program in various Baltimore neighborhoods in hopes of reducing service requests for rats, lowering tonnage of mixed refuse and contributing to higher recycling tonnage. It also aimed to lower workers’ compensation claims by preventing on-the-job injuries for solid waste employees through the use of automated collections.

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said in a press release last week that she hopes to build on the success of the pilot program that provided more than 9,000 trash cans to residents in Belair-Edison and the Mondawmin area. Calls for rat extermination dropped by nearly 75 percent, she said, and fewer workers were injured lifting trash cans in areas where automated collection had already been implemented.

"The results of the pilot confirmed what we thought: Well-designed, well-built trash cans are easy for citizens to use and are easier for our solid-waste crews to handle," she said.

At no cost to residents, the city is assigning lidded trash can to each house participating in curbside waste collection.

According to Keep America Beautiful, the U.S. pays $11.5 billion annually to clean up litter. The improperly disposed of waste can have economic impacts, including lost tourism revenues, expenses for repairing vehicles, restoration of ecosystems, wildlife injury and eventually the cost to human health. Debris also can be carried by storm drains into local waterways, with potential for serious environmental contamination. Property values also can be negatively impacted by litter.

But trash cans aren’t the only initiative the city has put into place to clean up litter and debris. Rawlings-Blake introduced the new Clean Corps initiative at the city’s 16th annual “Mayor’s Fall Cleanup,” where volunteers gathered to pick up trash, plant trees and paint signs over storm drains.

By being proactive, Baltimore hopes to see more improvements through the program, which relies on residents getting their neighbors involved through door-to-door campaigns, getting blocks to regularly organize street or alley cleanups and taking pledges to make the city cleaner.

Rawlings-Blake told volunteers that litter in Baltimore, as in many U.S. cities, can be found blowing across streets, and that the city can do better. While various neighborhood groups have formed their own programs to combat litter, Clean Corps will recognize those existing efforts and help them coordinate with other groups and city resources.

The goal is connecting residents and businesses across the city so that no single neighborhood feels alone in its efforts to keep streets clean.

One of the city’s more visible litter cleanup jobs is the Inner Harbor Water Wheel, affectionately known as “Mr. Trash Wheel” to locals. The wheel harnesses the power of water and sunlight to collect litter and debris flowing down the Jones Falls River. The river’s current powers the water wheel, which collects trash and deposits it into a dumpster barge. When there isn’t enough water current, a solar panel array provides additional power to keep the machine running. When the dumpster is full, it’s towed away by boat, and a new dumpster is put in place. 

Since its installation in May, 2014, the city says the water wheel has collected 341 tons of litter, including plastic bottles, cigarette butts, polystyrene containers, chip bags, grocery bags and glass bottles. The debris is collected and incinerated in a waste-to-energy facility.

In April of 2014, the city also began monthly street and gutter cleaning in areas that had never been mechanically swept. As part of storm water remediation fee, the city was able to extend sweeping into every Baltimore neighborhood. The results of expanded, citywide street sweeping were immediate and dramatic. Hundreds of tons of litter, grit, broken glass, even bacteria and harmful chemicals were swept away and safely disposed in the first month, according to 2014 Baltimore Annual Clean Harbor Report.

And little by little, the city is winning some battles, if not the war on litter.

According to the Baltimore Department of Public Works Annual Fiscal Report for 2015, residents boosted recycling rates. The city collected 26,154 tons of recyclables in 2014, nearly a 5 percent increase over the 24,973 tons gathered in 2013. In addition, the city showed an 11 percent increase in the recycling of polystyrene. Residents also increased participation in the city’s household hazardous waste collection program by 10 percent.

About the Author(s)

Cheryl McMullen

Freelance writer, Waste360

Cheryl McMullen is a freelance journalist from Akron, Ohio, covering solid waste collection and transfer for Waste360.

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