December 13, 2011

Trash Inspectors (Green Police) Fine You for Failing to Recyle in Washington, DC

DC Resident Fined Thousands For Not Recycling Cat Litter:

DC Resident Fined Thousands for Not Recycling Cat Litter

December 13, 2011

myfoxdc - It's the law in D.C. - recycle or face a fine from the Department of Public Works. But is enforcement of the law going too far?

Dupont Circle resident Patricia White says she has been fined eight times for throwing homemade cat litter in her trash. The fines total $2,000.

White says she shreds old newspaper and junk mail to use as cat litter. She believes she is helping the environment by reusing the paper and avoiding cat litter you will find in stores.

After being fined several times, White says she called the Department of Public Works inspector who issued the tickets. According to White, the inspector admitted to digging through trash looking for violations. White even appealed the violations in D.C. court. Judge Audrey Jenkins agreed with the inspector after White explained the situation. FOX 5 tried to reach Judge Jenkins, but her office has declined to comment.

D.C. Council Member Jack Evans says DPW is going too far with its recycling enforcement. He demanded a meeting with DPW Director Bill Howland to discuss White's case.

White says she will continue to fight the citations and continue to dispose of her cat's litter in the trash and not in the recycling bin.

The DC Department of Public Works made the following statement to clarify the purpose of its commercial recycling enforcement procedures:

“The overall goal of recycling is to reduce the amount of waste that goes into landfills; therefore, DPW’s commercial recycling education and enforcement work is citywide. We do not enforce residential recycling, which is collected from single family homes and apartment buildings with no more than three living units.

“DPW recycling investigators are looking for evidence of co-mingling of trash with recyclables. We are finding contamination of the recyclables that is clearly coming from someone who lives or works in the building or in the trained perspective of our investigators, the problem is ‘systemic’ where poor receptacle placement, labeling and/or education have contributed to obvious contamination.

“Commercial property owners, including owners of residential buildings with four or more living units, are required to provide trash and recycling collection services through a contract with a licensed hauler.

“We emphasize education and when that does not work, as shown by follow-up inspections, we will enforce the regulations.

“An appeal process is available to property owners who believe a ticket has been issued unfairly.”

In an e-mail to FOX 5 regarding White's situation, a spokesperson for the DC Department of Public Works said,

"The ticket Ms. White is questioning was upheld November 21, 2011 by an Administrative Law Judge with the Office of Administrative Hearings, based on evidence of items other than the shredded newspaper that showed comingled trash and recyclables."

Recycling Does Not Mean Efficiency - The all-staff email went out last week:
“We recently learned that the DC Government is now enforcing its recycling regulations. Inspectors are making unannounced inspections and issuing warnings for failure to recycle. Second violations are subject to fines. As we know, the DC government is in need of funds so we can expect enforcement to be serious…”

Since I work on our website and just don’t generate much paper waste, I made mental note of what common items in my cube would go into which containers (soda cans mostly, like any self-respecting geek), assumed that the promised at-desk recycling boxes would once again not make it to me, and didn’t think about it again.

Until yesterday, that is. Our Vice President of Facilities and Property came to my cube around 4:30 yesterday, and said,

“Hi Tiffany, how’s your trash?”

“Um, empty, mostly…” I pulled my trash can out, displaying the two items inside: a used sub shop napkin and a square of paper.

“What’s THAT?” she said, indicating the non-napkin item.

“Oh, it’s a page from this calendar here,” I indicated my Page-A-Day calendar. Coated paper, questionably recyclable.

“Okay, great.” She walked away.

And then I noticed the email she had sent shortly before -- a DC Recycling Inspector was going to be visiting our building the next day and would be issuing fines for any violations.

Let me clarify -- an employee of the DC government, paid by tax dollars, would be entering our office for the purpose of poking at our trash cans. And let’s not pretend this is about the environment: the inspector could fine us for throwing away recyclable material, but at the end of the complex list of what is and is not appropriate in recycle bins, DC admonishes us “WHEN IN DOUBT, LEAVE IT OUT.”

But that’s how it came to pass that this very morning, before the arrival of the inspector, the Senior Director of my division came around to each individual member of our department, and delivered a perfunctory speech about how our organization takes recycling very seriously both for environmental and fine-avoidance reasons, and that complying with company procedures is the responsibility of every employee.

I’m so delighted that commitment to efficient stewardship of our resources extends to how DC businesses must spend the time of their well-compensated executives.

If you were wondering, we passed our recycling inspection perfectly. In fact, only one tenant in the building was fined for recycling violations -- an office of the DC Government.

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