By Shreya Vuttaluru
The College Park Department of Public Works (DPW) concluded its year-long study on bulk trash collection at the end of February, and the city council is now evaluating imposing fees for collecting excess bulk trash.
In January 2020, the city council drafted a proposal and directed DPW to conduct the study so that a billing system could be fairly enforced. The council delayed imposing fees for excess bulk trash until completion of the study, which was conducted from March 1, 2020, to February 28, 2021, with a brief pause due to the pandemic.
According to an ordinance proposed back in 2020, owner-occupied single-family homes would be eligible for four free bulk trash collections per year, with an annual limit of 20 items. Renter-occupied properties that pay for city trash services would also have four free collections, with a 29-item annual limit. The proposed ordinance stipulates that a $20 per-item fee would be assessed for collections above these maximums.
Public Works Director Robert Marsili reported results of the study to the city council on April 6. Almost 39% of households in the city requested a bulk trash pickup; of these collections, only 3.5% would have been charged a fee under the ordinance. There were 2,886 pickups in total, and households that requested pickups received a statement indicating the fee structure that would have been in effect if the ordinance had already been passed.
Marsili noted that the purpose of this ordinance would be to divert materials from the landfill and encourage residents to implement sustainable practices.
“We want to invite residents to recycle and reuse and to try to start the behavior change, with regards to just dumping tons of items out on the street,” Marsili said. “We can donate a lot of these items to places that may need these things.”
City Councilmember Robert Day (District 3) commended DPW on their data collection and suggested that a one-page flyer detailing information about recycling and trash might be helpful for residents.
Councilmember Monroe Dennis (District 2) noted that some residents were throwing out items that could be recyclable, potentially because they lacked information about how to recycle.
“We’re doing a cultural change, and we have to be mindful of what it is we want to divert from the landfill, in terms of these bulk items,” Dennis said. “We have to continue to inform our residents.”
In response to a question from Councilmember John Rigg (District 3) about how item counts would be done, Marsili also talked about the process of resolving disputes between residents and trash collectors.
“Our assistant director Frank Pacifico verifies all of those photographs … and make[s] sure that they are correct,” Marsili said. “He goes through those with a fine-tooth comb, and we always err on the side of the resident.”
Councilmember Fazlul Kabir (District 1) also voiced support for increased and improved messaging and education. Kabir noted that not all residents who discard more than 20 bulky items were necessarily abusing the system. He pointed to situations that could produce a good deal of trash, like an elderly person moving out of their home or an unforeseen death in a family.
Mayor Patrick Wojahn also raised the possibility of waiving fees during times of hardship, suggesting that assessing fees might not always be applicable or appropriate. Other council members agreed, appearing to support granting of waivers under certain circumstances.
“There are a lot of incidents … where people really get hit and caught off guard,” Day said. “It would add insult to injury to come back and tell a resident that they have to pay for … something as simple as trash.”
At the May 4 worksession, the council will discuss the proposed bulk trash ordinance and a potential amendment for waiver of fees during hardship.