Saturday, April 28, 2018

Still Life with Robin: Can, Can


by Peggy Robin

After yet another lengthy, heated discussion on the listserv about who’s allowed to put what into someone else’s residential supercan, it was perhaps fortuitous timing for DPW to send out a colorful information card on trash and recycling, titled “Keep DC Clean and Litter Free: 3 Steps to Trash and Recycle the Right Way.” And no, that’s not a typo in the subtitle – they really did make “trash” and “recycle” serve as the infinitives.

Just in case you did not get one in the mail, you can view the card here:

As my own modest public service, let me recap the 3 main points on the card: 
  1. Bag your trash but not your recycling, and always be sure to close the lid on the bins.
  2. Don’t put the cans out any earlier than 6:30pm on the night before pickup or any later than 6am same day. (No mention of how much you can be fined if your cans are out too early. Want to know? Well, I found the schedule of fines for recycling violations here: but a fairly thorough search did not turn up the same thing for residential trash collection violations. If someone can point us to it, please post!
  3. Bring your cans in by 8pm on pickup day.

Now we come to what should have been the real nugget of useful information – the part that tells you what you are allowed to put in your trash and recycling containers. I realize that a postcard mailing can’t accommodate a long list and sure enough, the card ends with a reference for the website http://zerowaste.dc, where you can “find out what materials belong in the recycling or trash container.”  This turned out to be the fun part! Click on the site and you’re not looking at some dull listing of stuff -- you’re on an interactive site, which lets you type in free-form whatever comes into your head that you need to get rid of. So, for example, if you type in “dog poop,” it offers you a few possible matches, and when you choose “animal waste,” it gives you this answer:
“Put this item in your trash. Trash should be in a plastic bag inside green trash bins.” (Note, by the way, that it says, unambiguously, “YOUR” trash – and it does NOT go on to say, “or some other homeowner’s Supercan that you find sitting empty at the curb after pickup.”)

If you type in “Styrofoam food container,” it shows you a number of options, the closest match being “foam tray” and then tells you this item is also to be thrown out with the trash, rather than put in the recycling….even though it may have the recycle symbol and the number 6 stamped on the bottom. It’s nice to get an unambiguous verdict from DPW, no matter what the item may claim for its own recyclability. I went on typing in lots of different things, including “motor oil,” and “sandwich bags” and “orange crates,” and “wine corks,” and it recognized the item every time and led me to the right result.

Still, if it’s long lists you prefer, there's a web page listing recyclable items at: -- with helpful illustrations. As for trash – that would be endless; instead of a list, there’s a handy poster at this link:

There’s a lot of useful stuff on composting, too. Go to to find participating farmers markets that will take your food waste, with an interactive map to help you find the closest one, and a graphic showing what can and can’t be put in your composting bucket.

This may not have been the most exciting thing to do on a beautiful Saturday afternoon, but I would not call it a waste of time!

Still Life with Robin is published on the Cleveland ParkListserv and on All Life Is Local on Saturdays.

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