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July 16, 2009

A can without a lid is not the biggest offense

With Baltimore's historic switch this week to once-a-week trash pickup, from twice a week, the biggest worry seems to be that there will be more piles of trash on the corners. And conversely, if the city starts enforcing the laws concerning trash, mostly law-abiding and tax-paying residents fear they will get the tickets.

Everyone may be tired of this trashy subject by now, but I had a change to talk to the head of code enforcement and he gave me the run down on what residents are most likely to get cited for doing. Thought I'd pass on the info.

Officially, Baltimore City law says you need to put your trash out no earlier than 6 p.m. the night before your scheduled pick up. Trash needs to be in a can with a lid. Households are allowed 96 gallons of trash, or about three cans. Those can need to be returned to your property, not left on the sidewalk, even if you have to drag it through your house to your backyard.

Recycling, now picked up once a week, is unlimited. And no lids needed here because the items are (supposed to be) rinsed to remove any residue appealing to rats.

But, much of this isn't likely to get you cited, according to Eric Booker, assistant commissioner of code enforcement inspection at the Baltimore Housing Authority.

Unless someone calls about the mess you've made in front of your house, any of his 60 officers aren't likely to come to your house, especially on trash day. They're in other neighborhoods looking for people who put trash out on the corners in bags. Bags, especially those out overnight in a big pile, are what feed the rat population.

"I'm looking for that," Booker told me. "If I get a call that there is a violation, I have to cite it, but I'm not hunting for someone with a can in front of the house. But if you pile trash on the corner, I will catch you." 

So, if you put your trash out on trash day and it doesn't all fit with the lid, or your neighbors put a bag in your can, you probably won't get a ticket. If you leave your can in front of your house instead of getting it to your backyard, you probably won't get a ticket. Probably.

Booker is after the corner piles. And he's not afraid to go all CSI and figure out who made the trash. See the video. And if you're going to go to all the trouble of shredding all your mail and all other distinguishing items, then you may as well use that energy to buy a can and use it.  

Putting your trash bag on the corner can get your $150 in fines: one $50 fine for not using a can, one $50 fine for trash accumulation and one $50 fine for putting trash out on the wrong day.

Booker says putting the trash out on the corner does not help the collectors. It sends a message that this is where trash goes all the time. It's also not fair to the person who lives there.

There is a grace period of 90 days on citations, but just for putting your trash out on the wrong day or putting out more than 96 gallons. You still need to use a can.

Booker understands there will be "growing pains." And residents are allowed to appeal a citation. Last year, the officers issued 33,000 of them. (No count for how many were won on appeal.)  

And he's sorry about the lost and broken cans and lids. But suggests zip ties to connect them, or chaining them to the fence. Or, as his granddad did, use a piece of plywood as a lid with a brick to hold it down. "It doesn't have to be sexy. Get creative."

One more thing about the cans: Use a liner in your trash can. Tie it closed. The collectors will grab only the bag and not the can if you do that.

And lastly, Booker says, "Please recycle. It can reduce trash by 70-80 percent."

Baltimore Sun photo/Jed Kirschbaum

Posted by Meredith Cohn at 7:00 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Tips


Just another revenue generator to tax even further the people of Baltimore.

What I'm personally concerned with is the security issue here.

We do a LOT of recycling, so I welcome the once-a-week recycling pickup. I also have a large-ish 45 gallon covered can outside my back door where I put the trash, and I can accumulate trash for weeks at a time until I need to dump it.

The issue is that I live in a row-house with a 6' high wooden security fence, a locked gate, pickup in the alley, and have attempted to make "the back slab" something of an urban garden with plants and lawn furniture.

Previously - on trash day itself, after 6am - I would remove the bags in the can and throw them over the fence into the alley, often minutes ahead of the truck, and sometimes handing them to the collectors.

What I'm worried about now, however, is that I have only a bunch of unappealing choices. It's easy enough for me to wheel the can out into the alley, but because it's an alley - they can't leave the trash can in the alley because they back the truck down the alley after emptying my can. And because I have a security fence, the only way the collectors can return the big can is to throw it over the fence - landing on what I've done to make the space usable (and thus less likely a rat-haven). Either that, or I can leave my gate wide open to signify that they can just put the can back. But that also invites in every miscreant in the neighborhood.

So I guess I'll have to re-arrange the back slab to allow for a "crash zone" for the can getting thrown back over the fence, unless I wanted to rip the security fence down, or invite everyone in to steal my stuff on the back slab or break into my house.

This sucks. Not the trash collection once a week or the 96 gallon limit, but the strict mandate that the trash get collected in cans only; it doesn't allow for those of us who are trying to be good citizens by covering our trash, putting it in the alley on trash day after 6am, and making all of our property real, livable urban space, but are worried about the high rate of personal property crime.

And I don't think I'm alone in this. It really seems like this was designed for non-rowhousers, or at least people in rowhouses that have a chain link fence and have nothing in their "back yard," or people who live in relatively secure areas. This is not typical at all of my block.

Is there anyone to talk to about this?

As recently as a month or two ago, when I called 311 to report bags and bags of trash being piled up on a corner (sometimes appearing just an hour or two after trash pickup!), I was told that unless I could tell them precisely which house was dumping the trash out there, they couldn't do anything.

I certainly hope that policy has changed, because I don't think it should be up to citizens to go all CSI and dig through others' trash.

I know exactly what you mean. I also put my trash in the alley on trash day before 6:00am. I have neighbors on both sides of me who put their trash out either the night before or day before trash day. When the rats and stray cats tear open the trash bags I find my self cleaning up the alley so that the alley looks half way decent. I use to put my cans with the lids on. I had to get rid of the cans due to my lids were lost or thrown out with the rest of the trash. Trash cans cost money!!!! The Mayor of Baltimore just raised city residents property taxes an enorumous amount. She needs to understand that the tax paying residents do not have a 24 hour security siting outside of their homes ensuring that her trash is pickup and her cans are replace in front of her door with the lids on.


I love having a weekly recycle day. We recycle over half of our waste, and if we missed a recycle day due to travel or a holiday, our basement would fill up with heaps of paper, glass, and cans.

I agree with previous comments -- the can with lid policy is not rowhouse friendly. Our alley doesn't really have enough room for trash cans and the cars that park in it. I foresee lots of crushed trash cans in my future.

Consider, if it's possible in your backyard space, building a wooden "shed" or box to contain your trash/recycling. This would be along the side of the fence that shares with the alley. Then, on the actually alley side (i.e. outside your yard) cut a door or hatch that can be lifted open by trash crews. You can put a lock on your yard side. This way, they can access the cans and you can have a secure yard. We also built a bed for plants on top of this box for decorative reasons but you could just put potted plants or whatever on it.

I agree with other commenters ... I love having once-a-week recycling!

I am, however, confused about the recycling. Ours was supposed to be picked up today. According to the One Plus One info flier, recycling should now be placed where trash is placed. In our case, that means no longer in front of the house, but rather in the back alley.

Everyone except one person on my block did that. The one person who put it in front got his picked up. Everything in the back alley was left there.

It is now raining. The back alley is a mess (the alley between the 1200 blocks of Patapsco and Marshall Streets).

Where are we supposed to put our recycling? And, are they going to fine everyone on the two streets for the mess in the back?

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About the bloggers
Tim WheelerTim Wheeler reports on the environment and Chesapeake Bay. A native of West Virginia, he has focused mainly on Maryland's environment since moving here in 1983. Along the way, he's crewed aboard a skipjack in the bay, canoed under city streets up the Jones Fall from the Inner Harbor, and gone deep underground in a western Maryland coal mine. He loves seafood, rambles in the country and good stories. He hopes to share some here.

Contributor Christy Zuccarini has been blogging about the local DIY craft scene for a year for She brings her pespective on all things handmade to B'More Green, where she will highlight projects you can do yourself as well as crafters who are integrating sustainable methods and materials.

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