Talking Trash - How to Keep a Condo Community Clean
Question: Q: My community has a trash problem. The area around the dumpsters is a mess! By trash collection day, and often long before, garbage bags are piled all around the dumpsters – sometimes because the bins are full, but often because people just can’t be bothered to lift the lids. We’ve posted ‘keep this area clean’ signs near the dumpsters, regularly include notes in our newsletter and on our Web site reminding owners to dispose of their trash properly and we’ve threatened to fine anyone caught violating our disposal rules. Nothing seems to work. Do you have any suggestions?
Answer: A: OK, we’ll talk trash with you. It’s a messy job, but someone has to do it – and James Connolly at Crowninshield Management Company has volunteered. Spoiler alert: He hasn’t found a perfect solution to the messy dumpster challenge either, but he says it is “an ongoing problem,” widely shared by condominium communities.
Some trash disposal services will actually pick up those loose bags, Connolly says, “but unless you have a very special, wonderful, unique driver who will actually get out of his truck,” that’s not going to happen. The trash bags remain where owners toss them after the bins have been emptied.
Connolly says he’s tried many strategies, including putting the bins inside locked cages to prevent outsiders from using them. “But someone always forgets their key,” he notes, and owners who don’t want to be bothered unlocking the gate toss their bags over the fence.
Fining owners who leave their bags outside the bins can be effective, Connolly has found, “but you have to catch them.” Installing cameras in the trash area can also be effective, both in identifying violators and encouraging compliance. But the cameras are expensive, Connolly notes, and reviewing the images to identify the trash delinquents is time consuming.
Simply having a camera in place does “curb bad behavior,” Connolly agrees. But he cautions against installing an inexpensive “dummy” camera. Cameras can instill “a false sense of security,” he notes, leading owners to assume incorrectly that the area is monitored and secure, and creating liability concerns for the association.
Some communities are using DNA matching to identify owners who fail to clean up after their pets, “but I can’t see trying to DNA anyone’s trash,” Connolly says. Among other obvious concerns – sifting through trash would be onerous work, “unpleasant and potentially dangerous” for staff, who might prick their fingers on needles or risk other injuries.
He suggests a few steps you might consider to address your trash problem:
1. If the bins are regularly filled to overflowing, schedule an additional trash pick-up, or consider adding a recycling service if you don’t already have one, to reduce the amount of trash. Of course, then you’ll have to worry about owners not bothering to separate their trash and recycling, but that’s a different issue.
2. Just assume people are going to dump bags around the dumpsters, and have your maintenance staff keep the area clean. If you don’t have maintenance workers, board members or a committee of concerned owners might volunteer to do this.
3. Encourage owners to be good neighbors. Remind them that it is in everyone’s interests to keep the community clean. These reminders probably won’t be any more effective for you than they have been in the past, but they can’t hurt. And if you catch owners in the act of dumping, fine them. Owners may decide it’s worth the extra effort to put their bags in the dumpsters, if they know it will cost them $25 or $50 if they don’t.