A woman throws an item away in a trash can on Market Street. (DavÌd RodrÌguez/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Supes want to clean up SF’s messy public trash can strategy

A San Francisco supervisor is calling for a more cohesive plan for placing trash cans around The City after learning that receptacles are installed or removed based upon day-to-day requests.

A committee hearing Thursday on the “huge problem with trash and litter on our streets” called by Supervisor Matt Haney shed light on the lack of a sound policy for deciding where trash cans are located.

Haney said that The City needs to have clearer standards and metrics for determining the amount of trash cans that are needed and their locations, rather than rely on somebody’s complaint to remove the can since it could undermine a larger effort to keep the neighborhood clean.

“There should be more of an objective policy around where they go,” Haney said.

Jeremy Spitz, who handles public trash cans for Public Works, acknowledged during the hearing that the policy for locating trash cans is “subjective” and driven largely by requests to remove them or install them from elected officials, residents or business owners.

“It’s not a hard science,” Spitz said. “It’s all over the place.”

“We get a lot of requests for trash cans to be installed and removed,” Spitz continued. “So we have to be responsive to that. So that is kind of why it’s become a little bit of a jumble of a policy over the past many years.”

Spitz said that sometimes they will install a trash can and then receive complaints from adjacent residents and business owners that it resulted in more litter on the sidwalks.

But Haney argued that adding more trash cans reduces litter.

“We should have many more public cans,” Haney said. “I would like to see them closer to every corner.”

The City has reduced the number of public trash cans it used to have a decade ago.

In 2008 and 2009, then-Mayor Gavin Newsom ordered a number of trash cans to be removed under the theory it would reduce illegal dumping and litter. At the time, The City had about 5,000 public trash cans. Today, there are about 3,500.

“City cans aren’t always the answer,” Spitz said. “We can definitely install them wherever you want them but they are not always the answer in making the neighborhood cleaner.”

“If we had it our way we would just have them at bus stops and schools,” he added.

Spitz said that in areas where people don’t have adequate trash pick-up they tend to place their trash by the public cans.

“They become dumping grounds and they make the neighborhood more dirty,” Spitz said. “That is what we have seen.”

But Haney said in that case, the trash can isn’t the problem.

“I don’t think that the cans themselves are causing the illegal dumping,” Haney said. “I don’t think it stops it when you take them away. The stuff is just put somewhere else.”

Supervisor Catherine Stefani said illegal dumping should not determine the number of public cans.

“To me it seems like we’re letting those who engage in bad behavior dictate our trash can policy,” Stefani said. “I don’t think that’s the way that we should actually pursue policy around this issue.”

jsabatini@sfexaminer.com

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