Eco-Tip for 9/8/19
Avoid Accidental Litter: Bag Your Bags and Tarp Your Loads
By David Goldstein, Ventura County Public Works Agency, IWMD
When you see litter in your neighborhood, do you wonder what kind of person would inconsiderately create such a mess? Because litter is often caused unintentionally, the litter you see in your neighborhood may very well be from your own home.
Even if you would never overload your curbside cart or leave its lid open for birds to scavenge, sometimes wind causes curbside cart lids to open. Also, material can blow out, fall out, or fly loose during collection. To keep items in your refuse cart and ensure safe collection, bag light plastic material like plastic bags, polystyrene packing peanuts, and candy wrappers.
Paper can also go airborne, but do not bag anything in your recycling cart. Even paper must be loose to be properly sorted. To avoid paper blowing out of your recycling cart, put it below the top of your load. It is less likely to blow out of a cart when surrounded by other recyclables.
Local refuse haulers are diligent about careful collection, and some drivers even get out of their cabs to chase errant discards down the street, but this level of dedication goes beyond their assigned job duties because it is hazardous. Exiting the cab and stepping into traffic is one of reasons “refuse and recyclable material collectors” consistently ranks as the fifth most deadly profession in America, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries Summary.
Piyush Sheth, an entrepreneur based in Porter Ranch, is planning to address the problem of unintentional residential litter in partnership with a contracted manufacturing company in Simi Valley. They hope to mass produce a litter avoiding device they currently make only on a prototype scale. This device fits on curbside carts, holding lids shut until the cart is upside down. As shown in a video Sheth sent to me as part of an inquiry into the availability of incentives from the Ventura County Recycling Market Development Zone, the device, made from recycled plastic, is entirely mechanical. Using no electronic sensors, it operates through gravity. The device could even accommodate a slightly overloaded refuse or recycling cart. Sheth is hoping to reach a deal with a refuse company or a municipality for a pilot project.
For public area recycling and refuse, the accidental litter problem is also addressed through changes to container design. The most visible local change over the past decade has been the introduction of solar powered compacting containers. The city of Ventura installed several of the Bigbelly brand of compacting containers downtown, with its enclosed design avoiding litter by preventing overloading, scavenging, and birds. The County of Ventura’s General Services Agency installed five of the same type of public area containers at the Ventura County Government Center. Other containers at the
Government Center and at County facilities elsewhere are covered with fiberglass and metal lids, which also work well to prevent litter from blowing out of containers, given the maintenance crews regimen of daily collection to prevent overflow, according to Staff Services Manager Patrick Squires. Businesses and others with metal bins for refuse and recycling can contribute to litter prevention with a simple housekeeping measure. Keep bins inside enclosures, and keep lids closed.
Tarping loads is another important measure to prevent litter. “Almost half of litter on U.S. roadways is now a result of accidental or unintentional litter, usually debris that falls off of improperly secured trash, recycling collection vehicles and pickup trucks,” according to Civic Sense, a 2012 book of research compiled by Prakash Phillappa.
California voters’ passage of proposition 67 in 2016 banned single-use plastic bags at “most grocery stores, retail stores with a pharmacy, convenience stores, food marts, and liquor stores,” according to the web site of the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery – CalRecycle. However, other types of stores still offer these lightweight litter sails. Also, supermarkets still provide bags for fruit and vegetables. Even thicker, reusable plastic bags, now offered for 10 cents at many markets, can catch air. These bags can cause litter problems when placed in curbside refuse carts, but they can also prevent litter when used to bag other lightweight items.