Press Club

Overflowing trash cans are causing a mess, but the county is looking to clean up

An privately-owned overflowing trash can in Pentagon City. (photo courtesy of Rebecca/@rdc20132)

Overflowing trash cans are becoming a more common sight in Pentagon City and Crystal City, but the county is pledging to clean up the mess.

In recent days, several local residents posted photos on social media of neighborhood trash cans and recycling bins filled beyond the brim with soda cans, food wrappers, pizza boxes, coffee cups, and doggie bags. The problem, as noted, seemed to happen more on weekends.

https://twitter.com/rdc20132/status/1525557363557777410

County officials tell ARLnow that increased seasonal tourism and more weekend events are to blame, as both in the region are ramping back up after 2+ years of pandemic-related drop-offs.

“We are seeing a definite increase in use of public trash cans in parts of Arlington like Pentagon City, frequented by a lot of folks from out-of-town,” Arlington Dept. of Environmental Services (DES) spokesperson Peter Golkin tells ARLnow. “After the first two years of the pandemic, there’s a noticeable rise in tourism and this is the traditional high point for any year thanks to school trips. When a group pulls up, it’s natural to want to get rid of junk like food wrappers and soda cans, especially on big buses that drivers have to keep clean.”

Golkin says that there are more workers back in offices as well, grabbing lunch and coffee while disposing of the remains in public trash cans. Plus, the increasing number of events both in Arlington and in D.C. has resulted in more “water bottles and wrappers naturally [making] their way beyond the event site.”

There’s also the notion of not wanting to walk the extra block to find a less-filled trash can.

“The messy problem comes when a trash or recycling can is full and the urge is to just keep piling rather than look for something with room maybe a block or two down the street,” he says.

To help solve the issue, Golkin says that DES is shifting schedules to include specific weekend checks at trouble trash spots in addition to the regular weekday rounds. However, “tight staffing” does not make it “easy to re-allocate limited resources like staff time.”

Despite requests from some residents, there’s no current plan to add more trash and recycling receptacles to those areas most impacted.

“The Solid Waste Bureau will see if the increased servicing takes care of the issue or if additional steps are necessary,” Golkin notes.

Not all of the trash cans in those neighborhoods are serviced by the county, however.

DES monitors and manages four pairs of trash and recycling receptacles on each side of S. Hayes Street near the Pentagon City mall. But there are also a number of trash cans in the area that belong to privately-owned buildings and are required to be serviced by those property owners.

Additionally, another county department — the Department of Parks and Recreation — handles the waste around Virginia Highlands Park, which is up a few blocks from the mall on S. Hayes Street.

As County Board chair Katie Cristol noted on Twitter, residents can request service or report problems with trash or any other street issue 24/7 through the county’s “Report A Problem” portal. More broadly, the county is currently updating its nearly-two-decade-old solid waste management plan and is asking for public input.

Golkin is optimistic that shifting more service to the weekends will help alleviate the trash problem in Pentagon City and Crystal City. But he does have a simple request.

“If a receptacle is already full, try to hold on [to trash] until there’s a nearby can with room.”

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