Monday, October 07, 2013

How work-arounds happen

About two weeks ago, I wrote to the mayor of our community:

It has been widely noticed that when the city employees pick up the trash at Weeks Field [a 9-acre playing field], they combine the trash from the recycling bins with the regular trash into the City truck. 

I imagine if they do it here, they do the same at other city parks and fields.

Would you please look into this and have them change their practice so they can be supportive of the City's recycling program?

I was concerned because hundreds of people per week use this field for athletic purposes and carefully place lots of plastic containers in the recycling bins.  He replied: 

Thanks. We are looking into this now and will be back to you.

One of our aldermen (i.e., a city legislator) got in touch with the right person and sent me a follow-up:

You are correct.  They have been combining trash with recycling at Weeks.  Public Works has informed me that they are changing their practices and I will get more clarification on what that will entail.

She included a copy of the email she had received from the DPW person:

One of the issues with park recycling receptacles is that we get a lot of contamination, especially dog poop.  Not so with village receptacles.

Ah ha!  A work-around!

I sense that those of you from the hospital world have already begun a root cause analysis.  People who walk their dogs at this park have thoughtfully maintained a stash of plastic bags so that no one will be caught short.  Why, then, do these civic-minded dog owners throw the plastic bags with dog poop in the green recycling bin instead of the blue trash bin? I'd like to guess that most of them think the plastic bag is recyclable.  (It is not.) Or they just don't think about it at all.

The good news is that the same people walk their dogs on this playing field every day of the year.  In fact, my original email to the mayor was based on reports from those very dog walkers.

I bet if we explained the issue to them and asked them to be more careful about their disposal habits, the case of the improperly thrown away dog poop could be resolved.  Then, the city workers could just recycle the stuff in the green bins like everyone else does in the city.

Otherwise, I can just imagine what kind of work-around will be designed to get around the current work-around.  If the City is like most hospitals, the proposed solution will be more expensive and labor-intensive.  Perhaps a Leaner approach will come up with a no-cost solution.


Anonymous said...

How about clear signage on the green bins: "Place dog poop in blue bin." If the problem is ambiguity, that should go a long way toward resolving it.

The real issue here is that city staff knew this was a problem and took no action to address it, while leaving the impression they were continuing to separate recyclables from the waste stream. What's most needed here is a city staff that cares about doing the right thing.

Paul Levy said...

That being said, it is a classic bureaucratic response among employees who feel disempowered. You see it everywhere. As such, it is an executive leadership issue, not a staff issue.

Anonymous said...

Or, provide a poop bag dispenser and attach it to the same pole as a trashcan just for dog poop, like my neighborhood does.


Anonymous said...

I think the sign idea is an excellent one.

Let me also say that I'm sympathetic to the city's current workaround for this messy problem. If dog owners cannot come to terms with the fact that dog poop is not recyclable, then the city has little choice but to throw the recycling in the trash. It's my hunch that most dog owners already understand the difference between poop and conventional recyclables. But hopefully the "Place dog poop in blue bin" signs will persuade them to do the right thing.

Hoss said...

From Village 14:

I’m not sure that I buy this explanation. Citywide, it’s generally not the DPW’s job to take care of trash anymore. Homeowner and business trash is picked up by the contractor. There’s lots and lots of inappropriate stuff in recycling bins. There’s a complex procedure at the recycling plant to remove non-recyclables and contaminants. The City is saying these bins are so contaminated that it’s a waste of effort for the contractor to take them? Really?

If there is anything to the dog poop explanation, then why? Is the blue barrel routinely full?

I suspect that there is something in the DPW's procedure that makes it easier to combine both bins instead of doing the job separately.

Read more:

Paul Levy said...

Ah, if so, the plot thickens. Maybe someone in the City government can elaborate.

Jennifer P said...

I love that you've been able to make an example of how to manage better out of dog poop.

As a dog owner, I do wonder what future civilizations might think as they excavate our trash and find all this well preserved excrement.

Anonymous said...

If we take the poop explanation as a problem, isn't the City being unethical by stationing a bin labeled "Recycle" in a public location when they know full well nothing will be recycled? Isn't that the same a labeling something "Natural" or "Organic" when it is not?

If the City put two blue bins there and no recycle bin, users might take their newspaper and soda can with them.

Hoss (thanks for quoting my comment)

Paul Levy said...

Funny you should say that, Hoss. As my neighbors will attest, I often wander the field picking up leftover water bottles and such after the kids' soccer practices and games. I used to throw them into the recycle bin on the field. Once I learned of the DPW practice, I started to carry them home to put in the bin at my house--where I could be confident they would be recycled.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Hoss that if it's not being recycled, there shouldn't be a container on the field.

How about a third container for compost. Let the dog owners use paper bags.

Regarding recycling containers in Newton... another point of confusion ... the more universal color for recycling is blue. If Newton chooses to use green for recycling, the trash containers should be a color other than blue. As a relative newcomer to Newton, I still have to look twice to make sure that I'm putting my recycling and trash in the correct containers.

Paul Levy said...

Email received today at about 5pm:

The Department of Public Works took over the collection of trash - and a fledgling recycling program - in our City Parks and villages two years ago and is committed to making this program as successful as our curbside recycling program has been.

It has been reported that recycling containers in our parks have been contaminated with both pet feces and food waste, items which are not acceptable at the recycling collection facility. In such cases, staff has combined all of the recycling bin matter with that of the regular trash containers.

We are working with our staff to develop steps that will try and reduce this contamination, while simultaneously being more proactive in separating material in order to increase recycling. Every Friday, we will focus Parks collection on recycling in order to reduce the tendency to combine it with trash. Staff will be expected to remove minor contamination from recycling containers and place them in the trash containers. Additional signage will be placed on the containers to highlight recyclable materials and better differentiate between acceptable disposal requirements.

We appreciate the field observations as it is in all or our interests to reduce the waste stream both from an economical perspective as well as an environmental one. We're hoping to see a difference beginning the end of this month and will continue to refine this program to make it more successful in the future.

Dave Turocy
DPW Commissioner

Anonymous said...

If I were a trash pickup person, I would refuse to sort through the barrels. In that case, I think it would be better to have 2 trash barrels instead of one of each. In that way, at least we are not playing games.

stunned said...

With all the havoc going on in this country right now, I am stunned that the greatest number of comments was generated by a post on DOG POOP. Indeed, the enemy is us!

Anonymous said...

Weeks Field is not an anomaly. The same thing with the barrels occurs at Cold Spring Park and Newton Center Playground. It seems to me the problem lies with the trucks the city uses at the fields. Unlike the specialized trucks which come to our houses, the city trucks seem to be common garbage trucks, and the city workers simply dump both color barrels together in the large collection area in the back of the garbage trucks. I doubt cross-contamination is a real concern. Up until the point when I realized the city was not recycling the bottles and cans, I had picked up literally hundreds of recyclables in walks through these parks and had been putting them in the green barrels. I gave up when I saw that my efforts were in vain. I try now to bring recyclables back to my own green barrel, but it still irks me to pass by the green barrels on the fields, or around Crystal Lake, with the prominent red bottle/can labels, and to be reminded that it has just been a sham all along. I really appreciate your reaching out here and getting the attention of the decision-makers.