Posted on | January 6, 2017 | 1 Comment
When Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s mayorship of Baltimore is finally judged, her crowning achievement may be having provided residents with rat-proof trash cans. The stout green plastic bins that arrived early last autumn came in two sizes, enormous (roughly 60 gallon) and large (more like 40). After the city dropped them off, as is if over night, the cans radically reduced the amount of skimpily bagged food waste left out on city streets as trash collection days approached. It was so effective that in a recent round table assessing Rawlings-Blake’s tenure, NPR host Tom Hall and his guests were talking trash cans in the same breaths as the former mayor’s handling of the riots and a huge port development deal.
But, months after the roll out, with a new mayor, securing Baltimore’s trash remains a job half done. The former mayor’s veto of the single-use plastic bag ban mean streets and drains are still clogged by persistent waste. The city’s quaintest streets are too small for alley collection so the cans must live out front, where they are eyesores and open to unsavory contributions from passers by. Perhaps their biggest failing is that they only address one waste stream: trash. While rats lost in open garbage on Tuesdays, trash day, won on Thursdays, recycling day. The new bins did nothing to deny rats greasy pizza boxes and glue-rich Amazon packaging.
Why not do as they do in Los Angeles, which is to provide three bins, one for garden waste, another for trash and third for recycling? Space. There simply is no place to put three big bins. A typical row home is perhaps 12 feet wide. And so Baltimore, while having reduced its rat problem, still relies not on the huge improvement of Rawlings-Blake’s bins, or any form of public hygiene, but on rat poison, an approach as cruel as it is ineffective.
Watching sick and dying wildlife caught up in this loophole bothered me enough that over the last sixteen months I designed a prototype rat-proof system, then found local art welders to build it. The ups and downs of that effort are covered in the picture captions below. The uppiest of the rare ups came this week when the art welders from Tim Scofield Studios arrived with the prototype rat-proof garbage shed. There are two cabinets, one for trash, the other for recycling. A rail up top is to guard a planter that will soon carry emerging daffodils. The cages below keep the trash cans contained. The wire mesh allows circulation through basement windows while being rat proof.
Will it catch on? I hope so. If not, it’s this one Baltimorean’s effort toward poison free rat control and a more beautiful city. Ideas/suggestions/comments all welcome.