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Be more like Disney World

Mayor Bowser recently announced her administration’s new “Not in My DC” litter prevention campaign. Although it’s a noble cause, the best I can tell, the program is nothing more than an effort to clean up existing litter. It does not seem to address preventing litter. This is a problem.

With a growing population and increased tourism, more people than ever are traversing our streets by car, scooter, bike, and foot. They are buying food and drinks in our restaurants and convenience stores and eating and drinking them on the go. But once done, where do they throw the trash? Hopefully a trash or recycling can. But most likely, on the ground. That is why Mayor Bowser is encouraging neighborhood cleanup events, like this one in Hill East.

This is not a solution. A solution is to prevent trash from ever hitting the ground. How can we do this? Assuming the best, I guess the Mayor is hoping “Not in My DC” will help change behavior. A similar program is taking place in Baltimore with mixed results. Another way: be more like Disney World.

As the myth goes, Walt Disney stood at the front gate of his theme park and passed out small candies. He then watched to see how far people would walk before they threw the wrappers on the ground. The average distance was 27 feet. Disney therefore placed trash cans no farther than 27 feet from one another. If you have ever been, you know that a Disney theme park does not have litter. The same cannot be said for the District.

Every day I walk to/from work along Independence Avenue from 19th Street, S.E. to 3rd Street, S.W. I have begun to notice there are very few trash cans along this route. No more than five total. And zero recycling cans. If you are one that prefers facts to anecdotes, we have 4,800 trash cans installed throughout the District. However, we 1,495 linear miles of sidewalks. In other words, we have one trash can for every 1,645 feet of sidewalk.

Why is this? It could be because of security. But more likely it’s because we have decided not to place trash cans in residential neighborhoods. Trash cans are only installed along our commercial streets. Apparently this is so because collection is noisy. So is residential trash collection, but we still do that. If we are serious about keeping the rats away, ensuring our streets are clean, and protecting the environment, a little noise should not stand in the way. Neither should cost.

Of course, bins every 27 feet will not end littering as we know it. Residents will still throw trash out of car windows. Bins will overflow if they are not collected frequently. People just won’t care. However, it will be more of a solution than just encouraging residents to organize monthly events. Like many problems, we need innovate thinking. We need Mayor Bowser to channel Walt Disney.

Michael Bekesha has been a Ward 6 resident since 2010. He ran for the Ward 6 Council seat in November 2018. He, his wife Holly, and their rescue dog Sprocket live in Hill East. He identifies as an Urban Republican. He may be reached by email or on Twitter.

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