Most Americans take curbside trash pickup for granted, and many are casual about the regulations surrounding residential collection—and this can result in unintended violations. To avoid sanitation violations, it's important that you know the rules about trash pickup in your community. For instance, in most localities, items that are potentially harmful to sanitation workers or toxic to the environment should never be put in the trash. Some cities offer special collections for such hazardous materials, and may even offer bulk pickups for unwieldy items like mattresses and refrigerators. You can find out what your municipality requires and learn about special waste-handling programs with a quick call to your local sanitation department or a visit to their website. Becoming an educated citizen is your first step toward the responsible use of sanitation services.
Use Only Approved Containers
Have you ever left a cardboard box full of garbage next to your overflowing trash can only to discover the next morning that it wasn’t picked up with the rest of the trash? Your box was ignored probably because it wasn’t an approved trash receptacle. Community rules vary widely on this one, but in some areas the sanitation company provides a special container with a locking lid; any garbage left in an unapproved container may be left behind.
Related: 15 Items You Probably Didn’t Know Were Hazardous Waste
Don’t throw trash directly into the curbside trash container. Doing so not only leads to garbage spilling out when the sanitation worker dumps the container into the garbage truck, but it also leaves messy residue in the container that attracts flies and can be tough to clean out. Instead, put all trash in plastic garbage bags before putting the bags in the curbside trash container. You’ll be making the sanitation worker’s job easier, and the container will stay cleaner.
Related: 9 Little Tricks to Make Trash Day Less of a Chore
Slow Down When Driving Around a Sanitation Truck
Streets can be dangerous for drivers and pedestrians alike, and they're especially hazardous for sanitation workers who need to repeatedly cross the street, grabbing trash containers from the curb as they go. To make the roads safer for these workers, more than 20 states have passed “Slow Down to Get Around" laws, according to the National Waste & Recycling Association. Before you pass a sanitation truck, always slow down, look for workers, check for traffic approaching from the opposite direction, and be prepared to come to a complete stop if a worker steps into the street.
Position the Container Correctly
Some sanitation companies require that you use poly-carts, special containers that can be picked up by garbage trucks equipped with mechanical arms. If you need to use a poly-cart or other mandated container, position it as instructed (typically with the handle facing toward your house) and at least three feet away from mailboxes, cars, and other curbside obstacles, because the automatic arms need ample room to pick up and dump the container. Even if sanitation workers are picking up containers the old-fashioned way, it's a good idea to give them room to maneuver and to make sure the cans are easily accessible. In addition, don’t position the cart under a low-hanging branch or a basketball hoop, either of which could prevent the automatic arms from safely lifting the container.
Related: 14 Things It's Illegal to Throw in the Trash
Don’t Block Sidewalks
Sidewalks are for pedestrians, not trash cans. If pedestrians are forced to walk around garbage cans that are blocking the sidewalk, they may end up stepping into the street or traipsing through your bed of prize roses. Your sidewalk may be located on your property, but it's actually a public right-of-way, so don’t block it. Position your trash containers near the end of your driveway or near the curb, but keep them off the sidewalk.
Don’t Throw Hazardous Waste Out with the Garbage
Make it a rule in your household not to put hazardous waste in with the regular garbage. These dangerous discards can pollute the landfill or put sanitation workers at risk. Items like medical waste (including needles), old rechargeable batteries, half-filled cans of paint or stain, and used motor oil should all be taken to a designated drop-off location. Call your local waste authority to learn which items should be kept out of the trash and to find out where you can safely dispose of them.
Remove Cans Promptly After Pickup
Most sanitation companies pick up household trash once or twice a week on scheduled days. Once a container is empty, it should be pulled back to your house as soon as possible to keep it from blowing over, blowing into the street, or even blowing into someone else’s yard. Not only is it considered good manners to remove the container promptly after it’s empty, but leaving trash cans in your front yard does nothing for your home’s curb appeal.
Related: 22 Effortless Ways to Make Less Trash
Call Ahead for Bulky Items
If you have no way of hauling that old sofa to the dump by yourself, your local waste authority will often pick it up for you, sometimes for an additional fee. In order to arrange for a pickup, call ahead to find out what day and time you should have the item near the curb, and whether there there are special requirements for disposal (for instance, in some municipalities, discarded mattresses must be wrapped in plastic). Often, a different type of truck will be dispatched to pick up bulky items, so don't set them out with the regular trash.
Sort Your Recycling
Many communities offer curbside recycling to cut down on the amount of waste that ends up in the landfill. This is a great opportunity for eco-minded individuals to reduce their environmental footprint, but be sure to sort your recycling carefully. If your sanitation company collects paper products, put only clean paper items, such as newspapers, magazines, phone books, and the like in the container. Don’t add food-contaminated pizza boxes, metallic wrapping paper, or plastic-coated freezer boxes to the mix.
Bundle and Bag Yard Waste
In the fall, many municipalities expand their waste-collection services to include curbside collection of raked-up leaves, twigs, and branches. This natural waste is often used in community composting programs, so it should not contain any household waste—in other words, don’t toss your empty soda can into the leaf bag. For easy handling, bundle twigs in bunches no longer than four feet and no thicker than 18 inches in diameter, and use only natural twine or jute to tie them together.
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