Trash cans lacking in Centre/South

April 26, 2013
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Despite its reputation of being one of Boston’s greenest neighborhoods, central Jamaica Plain is lagging in a crucial aspect: public trash collection and recycling.

The Gazette surveyed trash cans in the Centre/South corridor last month. Of the 51 public trash cans in the two-mile stretch, only six were solar-powered, compacting, lidded “BigBelly” cans. They were all located in the Hyde/Jackson squares area. The rest were uncovered, smaller capacity cans that allow access to vermin and pests and lose trash to strong winds. Most of those are placed on Centre Street north of the Monument, whereas only 13 were located on South Street. The Gazette did not see any City recycling facilities anywhere on the corridor.

Several of the trash cans were full to nearly overflowing and some had trash around their bases, either from failed throws or from wind picking up trash from the can. Most, however, were in good maintenance, including all six BigBelly cans.

Of the hundreds of Department of Public Works (DPW) trash cans all over the city, only 257 are BigBelly cans. Those are mostly deployed around downtown, the Back Bay and university-focused areas like Boston University and Mission Hill, according to DPW spokesperson Tim McCarthy.

“We are trying to expand as fast as possible, [but] the cost is prohibitive,” McCarthy told the Gazette. Hyde/Jackson got those six cans because of lobbying from Hyde/Jackson Main Streets, McCarthy said.

Each BigBelly barrel costs $4,000, McCarthy said, and double-sized units that also accommodate recycling run $6,500.

DPW is working on spreading BigBellies all over the city, McCarthy said, but the rate depends on New York-based advertising company Vector Media, which is paying for the cans in exchange for the right to advertise on them.

“The first phase was downtown. We’re trying to walk the fine line between our service and where they can sell ads,” McCarthy said, which partially explains why neighborhoods haven’t seen the spread of the BigBellies yet.

A Gazette phone call to Vector was not returned.

According to McCarthy, Vector is using the ad revenue to invest in more cans, which means JP will likely eventually get BigBelly cans. McCarthy said he is confident 400 BigBellies would be in service by the end of May and that the City would eventually have 4,000 such cans in service.

“Next spring, we’ll get into the neighborhoods,” McCarthy said, though he could not give a more precise timeline of when JP might expect to see them. “Every Main Streets district wants BigBellies badly.”

“We ought to have recycling everywhere. We ought to have curbside composting,” City Councilor and mayoral candidate John Connolly said during a recent visit to Gazette offices.

Meanwhile, City Councilors Felix Arroyo and Matt O’Malley filed for a City Council hearing last month to “explore ways to expand public recycling to all neighborhoods and to add a recycling program to the parks,” according to the council order. That hearing has not yet been scheduled. Arroyo is also a mayoral candidate.

“My dream would be to see a recycling bin next to every trashcan in the city of Boston. That’s what I’d like to work towards,” Arroyo told the Gazette.

Of wider recycling around the city, McCarthy said DPW is “kicking around a bunch of ideas,” but did not elaborate.

“It’ll never happen if we don’t have a plan. This is a major undertaking, but you have to start somewhere,” Arroyo added.

McCarthy said there will have to be a “discussion” on which neighborhoods will see BigBellies sooner rather than later, as several locations have been lobbying for them for a long time, he said.

The City’s current open-top garbage cans are not emptied on any set schedule, McCarthy said, but they are checked twice a day. Lids have previously been used on City trash cans, “but they don’t work that well,” McCarthy said, adding that they were time consuming for sanitation workers and that people would still throw their household garbage into public cans, which is not allowed.

Part of the JP Business and Professional Association’s “JP Shines” campaign to clean up the neighborhood includes pushing for more trash cans on the street, BAPA spokesperson Michael Reiskind told the Gazette.

New locations for garbage cans are determined both by DPW and by citizen requests, McCarthy said. District supervisors will provide input and McCarthy said he likes to have a look at potential locations himself.