Cleveland Citizens Adopt-a-Can

Facing a large budget deficit, Cleveland has decided to let the public — not sanitation employees — haul trash.

In December 2003, the city let go 22 members of its ancillary collection crew, which handled litter control and trash bin collection in streets and parks. Left with only two two-person crews, the city announced that it would no longer be able to maintain the 1,300 public receptacles, and would be removing them. This would save the city approximately $1.2 million per year and help close the $61 million budget deficit. The city already has plans to eliminate its curbside recycling program.

However, residents quickly became alarmed that their city would appear dirty and unkempt to visitors if there were no places to toss their trash.

Mayor Jane Campbell considered options such as shifting members of the residential collection crew to the public cans, but finally decided on an Adopt-A-Can program.

Rather than remove all of its public trash receptacles, Cleveland now will use community volunteers to lighten its load. Companies and individuals that adopt trash cans will sign a one-year contract to collect the trash, clean the receptacles and insert new bags in the bins.

According to the city's Assistant Press Secretary Christy Harst, when the city announced the program at a recent press conference, it received 200 verbal commitments to adopt public trash cans. At press time, the program was only about a week old, so contracts still were being finalized.

As new parties become interested in adopting, they can call a city hotline placing their request for a certain number of cans. Then, the city's Law department will explain the legal terms of the contracts and finalize the “adoptions.” Volunteers are told not to alter the cans, and in the case of problems or hazardous materials found in receptacles, are told to contact the city. In the meantime, the Public Service department also has agreed to do its best to maintain any “orphans,” cans not adopted by volunteers.

To advertise the Adopt-a-Can program, Cleveland has mailed a newsletter to community development corporations (CDCs), churches, block clubs and street-front vendors, among others. The city also has received local media coverage about its innovative trash solution, Harst says.