D.C. Struggles to Take Out the Trash

Washington should know how to deal with its garbage.

National Park Service employees Garey Bickham(R) and George Stinnie hoist a cart full of trash into the back of a garbage truck at the Occupy DC encampment in McPherson Square in Washington, DC January 26, 2012.

D.C. should trash it's current trash policies.

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One of the most outrageous violations of voting rights occurs right in the nation’s capital, where tax-paying residents have no voting representation in the House, no representation at all in the Senate, and are used as a policy petri dish by members of Congress who have authority over D.C.’s budget. People have been fighting for decades to get D.C. the rightful autonomy it deserves (former WTOP radio personality Mark Plotkin has been an impressively tireless advocate). But really, it would help if the D.C. government didn’t act like a bunch of collective boneheads at times.

The District, it appears, has a hard time dealing with the complicated public service matter of garbage cans. In March, the District distributed 210,000 new garbage and recycling cans. Was it a desperate effort to help the (subsequently failed) Democratic primary campaign of Mayor Vincent C. Gray, who was defeated for re-nomination? It doesn’t matter. New cans. Out with the old ones, in with the new.

[SEE: Cartoons on the Democratic Party]

The old cans were affixed with bright yellow “Take Me!” stickers. That sends a pretty clear signal to passers-by to … well, take them. So a couple of D.C. residents did just that. As the Washington Post reported last week, two people, out late at night, saw the bins with the stickers and thought they might make good use of them, perhaps as flower pots. What a perfect solution: Someone removes the garbage bins (for free) that are clearly advertised as being themselves garbage, and they get re-purposed in a way that brightens our neighborhoods.

Except the D.C. police didn’t see it that way. As journalists Peter Hermann and Aaron C. Davis reported, the police, acting on a tip from the Secret Service, arrested the garbage can-takers and charged them with theft. This happened after myriad complaints across the city that the District had failed to itself remove the old, smelly bins.

The District again took action – too much, this time, as Davis reports. After announcing Friday that sanitation crews would conduct a blitz to take away the old bins, crews went a bit too far, taking the new bins as well. In some cases, the cans were taken from private property (though guidelines say cans should only be removed from public places). So now, some city residents have no trash cans at all.

[READ: D.C. Pot Decriminalization Law Fires Up Debate in Congress]

No city or state should have to pass a competency test for its residents to be treated as full citizens – otherwise, lots of jurisdictions would be disenfranchised. But the District of Columbia isn’t helping things by showing an inability to deal with something as simple as garbage cans.