D.C.'s garbage-gate exposes government

Aaron C. Davis/The Washington Post A D.C. sanitation crew uses a city garbage truck to crush and remove dozens of trash and recycling cans left for removal on a curb in Northwest on Saturday, May 17, 2014. Asked if the cans were being recycled as the city has said, a crew member said, "We don't know." (Photo by Aaron C. Davis/The Washington Post)

You really can't make this stuff up. Residents in and around Washington D.C. routinely respond to surveys about government positively. It is, after all, the region's biggest industry and employer.

The Gallup polling agency reports that while trust in government is down among Americans as a whole, it remains high among District of Columbia residents.

Even in the face of realities such as the Great Garbage Can Debacle of 2014.

"Earlier this year, District of Columbia residents were told that their trash cans and recycling bins would be replaced," reports Rich Tucker for Realclearpolicy.com. "And, indeed, new cans were delivered with impressive haste all across the District."

Then it started to get complicated.

"You see, when they dropped off new cans, the sanitation workers failed to remove thousands and thousands of the old ones. The cans just bumped around, unwanted by anyone," Tucker explains.

The District even provided residents with bright yellow stickers reading "Take Me!" on them. Except that the sanitation workers refused to take them.

One artist decided she would, though. She started collecting the cans for use in her work, and to help keep things tidy.

"A Secret Service agent with a bit of time on his hands informed D.C. police that he'd seen a man ‘walk stealthily down the sidewalk with a hood over his head to conceal his face collecting DPW recycling bins.' The jig was up. (Artist Mina) Karini and her friend Timothy Logan Melham were arrested and charged with second-degree theft. The cans were still D.C. property, apparently, even if residents didn't want them and the city wouldn't remove them. The judge ordered the can hunters ‘to undergo drug testing and avoid any criminal offenses,' and set an August trial date."

The charges were eventually dropped, but the saga doesn't end there.

"The caper put the unwanted trash bins on the front page of Washington's establishment newspaper, so D.C.'s government swung into action," Tucker explains. "Starting in May, the question wasn't how to get rid of a trash can; it was how to hold on to one. More than a dozen residents saw their new trash cans collected and hauled away by city workers. This included cans stored on private property."

Old cans were supposed to be recycled. They weren't.

"It turns out that the city has not been recycling thousands of the cans, as the administration of Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) had promised — but chucking them instead," the Washington Post reported in May. "City officials admitted Tuesday that sanitation crews dumped at least 132 truckloads of plastic bins — a third of the more than 16,000 old cans collected last week — alongside city waste and hauled them all off to Virginia to be incinerated."

City Council member Mary Cheh told that newspaper, "It's an embarrassment — it's Trash-CanGate… The cans were rushed out right before the election … and this is the continuing byproduct of a badly initiated and badly run program."

Yet D.C. residents still say they have great faith in government. That's the greater mystery here.


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