Talking Trash — Improving Trash Collection for Everyone

Megan Ellyia Green
4 min readSep 28, 2022

You might be familiar with this scene. I got home late one night this week; I had been doorknocking all day, and was looking forward to relaxing on the couch with Dewey the Alderdog.

But first I had to check on the chickens and take out the trash. I carried the garbage bags across the back porch, down the stairs, through the backyard and into the alley — taking care not to snag them along the way. (That’s easier said than done with a flock of inquisitive chickens.)

But right as I got to the dumpster I saw that it was full to the brim, with trashscattered across the alley. Again.

There’s one house that tends to produce a lot of trash. It seems like every weekend there’s a party. And every Monday, there’s a full dumpster … along with a frustrated neighborhood.

Chances are good that you’ve been similarly frustrated by an overflowing dumpster. Maybe someone on your street has a birthday, or clears out their basement, or moves. And then you take your trash out to the alley … only to find the dumpster full.

In my neighborhood, as with most neighborhoods in this City, this has become all too common after the Krewson Administration implemented an 18 month hiring freeze that left us short staffed. In predominately Black and low income neighborhoods, due to environmental racism, poor trash collection has always been the norm.

It’s a big problem. But it’s one we can fix.

Here’s how:

Transitioning to Universal Dumpsters

You might not know it, but a majority of City residents use a proprietary dumpster that only City trucks can pick up. That’s why it’s so disruptive (and expensive) when our trucks break down or our dumpsters are vandalized. Those dumpsters are not easily fixed or replaced. Neither are the trucks, which are becoming obsolete. When a truck needs to be replaced, it takes nearly two years for a new truck to be made and delivered.

But one third of City residents use roll out carts, which are easier and less expensive to replace. They can be picked up by every truck. And, because they’re lighter than the heavy metal dumpsters, they result in less wear and tear on our vehicles, which saves maintenance costs over the long term.

Plus, using roll-out containers cuts down on illegal dumping — and ensures you will never have to worry about whether there is enough room in a communal dumpster.

Roll-out carts also make households more accountable for the trash that they generate. Currently, only about 1/3 of materials that are put in recycle bins are actually recycled due to contamination. If we want to address the climate crisis, we have to be increasing the efficiency of our recycling system. Having each household accountable for their own trash can aide in upping our recycling.

Transitioning our City to a roll out cart system, in neighborhoods where it works, will make trash collection easier and more cost effective for the City, and better for City residents. This will decrease the reliance on the proprietary dumpsters and allow us to slowly transition remaining dumpsters, in areas where roll-carts don’t make sense, over to universal dumpsters that can be picked up by any truck.

Of course in this system we need to make accommodations for people with disabilities and people who are elderly to assist them with roll-carts. Other cities make this work and I’m confident that we can too.

Recruiting a Quality Workforce

Of course creating quality trash pick-up does not begin and end with trucks and dumpsters. We also need the workforce and the education to make our system work. Nearly every industry is short staffed. City government has been especially hard hit after we had a hiring freeze in place for the first 18 months of the pandemic. Our refuse drivers, like many city employees, are underpaid for the work that they do. We have to raise wages for city employees and provide other city benefits, such as childcare assistance, downpayment assistance, and tuition assistance to attract and retain the workforce that is necessary for quality trash pick up.

Better Education

Last, we have to provide better education to residents about trash pick-up, especially recycling. To often wishcycling results in entire bins of recycling being contaminated and not able to recycled. Additionally, many residents do not know that they city offer 12 free trips to the dump each year for larger items, or that items like TVs and other electronics need to go to special recycling facilities. We have to increase the education and community engagement around trash removal, while partnering with community to make it easier for them to appropriately dispose of their waste.

Trash collection is a priority for many people in our community; it may be a priority of yours, too.

And, as the President of the Board of Aldermen, I promise you that fixing our trash will be a priority of mine.

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Megan Ellyia Green

Unapologically Progressive | 15th Ward Alderwoman | PhD Ed Policy | Former DNC Member | STL City