Health & Environment

Clean Streets Committee Talks Trash

“Clean Streets” works on North End trash problems.
“Clean Streets” works on North End trash problems.

When Public Works tried to install more trash barrels around the neighborhood a few weeks ago, they ran into an unexpected problem. Many residents didn’t want them in front of their property. So, where is the trash to go? Naomi Paul thinks residents object more to the “overflowing” problem than the actual trash receptacle. As co-chair of NEWRA’s Clean Streets Committee along with Patricia Thiboutot, she is well aware that the neighborhood needs more barrels.

Frank O’Brien from Public Works faithfully attends the Clean Streets’ monthly meetings to address neighborhood concerns. Despite budget cuts, he has scrounged up 30 open-top barrels (left over from the Big Dig) but only 6 of the side-opening types. The open-top containers have a ring to help prevent residents from putting household garbage in the cans that are intended for street trash. These circular barrels are thinner than the more common ones seen around the city which also helps on the North End’s narrow sidewalks.

The side-opening and small-circle-top types are considered preferable because they won’t fit household garbage bags. Residents often illegally put household trash on the side or inside of the street barrels. This perplexing behavior occurs because many homes do not have enough space to hold much trash inside. Not only does this cause smelly, unsightly, overflowing trash on the streets, it also attracts rodents.

The North End is a long way from Paris’ trash system seen here. (Photo by Patricia Thiboutot)
The North End is a long way from Paris’ trash system seen here. (Photo by Patricia Thiboutot)

Public Works monitors and empties the street barrels as often as 3 times per day. However, even this frequency does not seem to be enough to keep some heavily trafficked areas clean.

The committee has recently partnered with the North End Chamber of Commerce to improve the trash problem. One of the ideas is to have businesses “adopt-a-barrel” where they would ensure it doesn’t overflow and use the advertising space on the receptacle in return. It is not clear how well this would work since barrels on side streets away from businesses would get short shrift and be difficult for them to monitor and empty. A NECC representative thought a raffle to buy new cans might be a better way to raise funds. Ann Pistoro is also looking at whether tourist businesses would contribute since much of the street trash is from tourism in the neighborhood.

More important than acquiring new cans is how to keep them from overflowing. Public Works said it would be open to some help from other sources, especially in heavily trafficked areas. State Representative Aaron Michlewitz said he would contact “Project Place” on behalf of the committee to see what they would charge. The teenagers hired during the summer did not seem to be very effective, according to residents. There is a prisoner worker program, but not on a recurring basis.

The subject of household trash brought up the most contentious part of the committee meeting … pickup times. Currently, residents can place their garbage out after 5pm the day before through 7am the day of pickup.  This results in trash on the sidewalk six days a week for the 3x/week pickups. Last year, there was an effort to change the hours to have residents only put it out on the morning of the pickup. To allow for this change, the City’s contractor was asked not to start pickups until 9am. After much discourse, the contractor said it was impossible to start later because they could never finish the job without the early morning pickups. Many residents also opposed the change as this was seen as being difficult for the elderly, disabled or off-shift workers.

Beacon Hill, confronted with similar trash issues, is seriously considering reducing the pickup days from 3 times per week to only 2x per week. The difficulty with this idea is that trash would have to stay in homes longer which would not be popular with some residents, given limited space and odor problems.

The Clean Streets committee meeting found consensus with the initiative to reduce the time that trash stays on the street. It would greatly help if residents put out trash later in the evening (say 10pm instead of 5pm) or the next morning before the 7am pickup time. This would at least reduce trash on the street during three nights per week (every Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday nights) that are prime walking and eating times.

Have a trash issue or want to help the Clean Streets Committee? Contact or visit and click on the Clean Streets tab.

See also:
Michlewitz Visits Clean Streets Committee Supporting Green Ticket Bill