Thanks to a hands-on lesson from a citywide clean-up campaign, tenants on a trash-plagued block of Newhallville upped their game for their weekly recycling collection—with more work left to be done to hit their goal.
The city’s recycling crew accepted three of the blue recycling toters during the most recent pick-up last week outside the tenants’ six-townhouse complex on the New Haven side of Cherry Ann Street, a dead-end road that straddles the border with Hamden.
The crew rejected the other three toters left on the curb. That’s because the bins were filled with pizza boxes, chicken bones, and other trash that the city doesn’t recycle.
That three-for-six tally marked an improvement. Usually all six toters get rejected. Garbage crews leave them full. As a result, the trash had piled up in the toters for weeks outside the Cherry Ann townhouse complex, fouling the air and visually trashing the street. The neighbors weren’t happy.
They told their alder, Delphine Clyburn. She in turn contacted Honda Smith, the point person at the public works department for a new citywide beautification effort aimed in part at drastically improving abysmal recycling rates in transient neighborhoods. (The effort also targets illegal dumping among other messes.)
As of 2012, the most recent year for which there are statistics, people in transient neighborhoods such as the Hill, Dwight and Edgewood recycled only about 14 percent of their trash, compared to 28 percent in Westville and Beaver Hills.
Smith and Clyburn showed up on a Saturday at the Cherry Ann Street complex. They demonstrated how to separate food waste and pizza boxes, among other regular household trash, from the stuff that can go in the large blue bins and be recycled: cans, boxes (unspoiled by food), newspapers, milk and juice and egg cartoons, mail. They also drew up a list of other suggestions for how to make the property nicer.
The tenants at the complex, most of whom receive federal Section 8 rental subsidies, had recently received a flyer from their landlord, Pike International, detailing how to recycle. The bins still went out on the curb filled with nonrecyclable trash.
After Smith’s demonstration, Cantrice Costin got the hang of it.
“Hands-on” instruction made the difference, she said.
“It’s a huge problem” citywide, Smith said of the recycling-bin messes. In the East Shore, East Rock, Beaver Hills, Wooster Square, and Westville, pretty much everyone recycles correctly, she said. In lower-income neighborhoods with more renters and more people moving in and out, especially from other countries, most people don’t.
So in March she started hitting those neighborhoods in person. She started with West Hills, where she lives. She reserved space at the Hindu temple on Pond Lily Avenue, then invited block-watch captains and “street captains” she knew from past political work to come along with people who were recycling wrong. One hundred people showed up, she said. They learned how to recycle. Since then, Smith estimated, recycling participation has risen from 20 to 85 percent in that area.
She has since convened meetings in Dixwell and Newhallville with local alders. She plans to hit the Hill and Fair Haven next, with the help of a Spanish translator.
Come Tuesday, Costin’s blue bin was in good order. So were two bins filled by other tenants who had attended Saturday’s session.
Three others were the same old mess. The recycling crew wouldn’t take them.
So neighbors called Clyburn (at right in photo, with Smith) again. She and Smith arrived on the scene. Smith called in a regular trash crew to empty the three bins. Then she looked into why the complex hadn’t gone six for six.
Connie Vereen and Gwendette Hinton were there, too. They live directly across the street—the side of Cherry Ann technically in Hamden, not New Haven. Vereen years ago started a joint block watch for the two sides of the street; Costin and Hinton (pictured) run it these days. The point is that the neighbors are part of one community, unbroken by lines on a map.
Vereen and Hinton said they have no problems with trash pick-up on their side of Cherry Ann; Hamden has had curbside recycling for longer than New Haven, they said, and the town worked early to enforce it. “We can’t do ours like that,” Hinton said of the trash piles found outside rental properties along the New Haven side.
After some investigation, Smith, Clyburn, and the neighbors determined that the derelict bins contained trash that had been sitting for weeks. Smith also determined that tenants fail promptly to return bins to the back or side of the house after pickup, so passersby toss nonrecyclables into the blue toters. She showed Costin the rules: New Haveners are supposed to wait until 12 hours before trash pick-up to put bins at the curb, and then to remove the bins from the curb within 12 hours after pick-up.
One of the six townhouses at the complex is vacant. Smith took note of that. She also renumbered the bins so it would be clear which tenant is responsible for which one.
Costin also suggested teaching the complex’s children the recycling rules, since they, too, throw out plenty of trash.
Finally, Costin reported that two tenants had missed the Saturday session because they’d been at work. No problem, Smith said. She plans to return, at a time she can meet up with them all. She wants to see the Cherry Ann townhouse recyclers bat 1.000.