If there was a problem with Tralee trash in Herndon seven weeks ago, there’s not one now.
Seven weeks after volunteering to test ways to solve a “trash crisis” at theirs and other townhouse communities, Tralee residents have taken ownership not only of their refuse, but also its containers.
Oscar the Grouch’s can would not comply, because it didn’t have an obligatory, tight-fitting lid.
After changing their Friday morning trash day habits to conform with Herndon’s “Can It” campaign, Tralee residents have accomplished a turnaround.
Town officials said they were ready to abandon the Can It campaign because it had lost its effectiveness. Under pressure from residents of older townhouse communities where respect for trash was slipping, they are considering more stringent punishment for trash scofflaws.
But in the face of the turnaround in Tralee, they might find better ways to achieve compliance.
Where once Tralee trash was collected in clear plastic bags, heaped in a common dumping area, or placed on the sidewalk on Crestview Drive, now each of 125 Tralee townhomes has its own cans, placed neatly in front if the owner’s respective unit.
Most have the obligatory tight-fitting lids. A few do not, but there is still a week to go in Tralee’s experiment.
OLDER, HIGH-DENSITY housing areas such as Tralee, present a big challenge to the town’s refuse plan. Several years ago the “Can It” campaign was started to address the problem of uncontrolled placement of refuse in open containers and bags, said Ron Colan, director of Public Works.
Crows would peck open the bags, and there were other health concerns with the garbage, he said.
Occasionally, refuse workers were pricked with “sharps:” hypodermic needles that would penetrate a plastic bag as they were moving it to the truck.
“Those two things drove us to say that everything has to be in a can,” said Colan.
“From a town perspective, we reached the point of diminishing returns” in the Can It campaign. “We asked to be allowed to assess fees for both individuals and HOAs. If a person is responsible and places the refuse in front of their dwelling, you can identify it. If they are not complying with the “Can It,” he said.
“A very common problem is there are piles of trash that you can’t identify with an individual resident.”
TRALEE HOMEOWNER Association President Jean Deavers, also a member of the Herndon Community Association Coalition (HCAC),
had noticed the same thing, presenting the Town Council with photographic evidence of abuses.
“Just because we are older communities, it doesn’t mean we have to look like trash,” she said.
“We can take as much pride in our older community as people do in new communities.”
Together with Tralee’s board and members of the HCAC, the experiment began seven weeks ago.
“We let everybody in the community know that our trash was being handled incorrectly, and there were going to be changes in the ordinances in Town of Herndon,” said Deavors.
“We reminded them that trash needs to be in a proper container with a tight-fitting lid.
“Ron Colan let us know the Town of Herndon does not sanction any community multi-unit collection areas.
“We immediately went to door-to-door trash pickup. Everybody had to change what they were doing. Change comes slowly,” she said.
“Everyone needs to take responsibility for his own trash. Bringing it in off the public street is one of the first steps to take.”
Gradually, the thinking of the Tralee residents shifted. Each person was coached to place a trash container at the walk to their door.
Chuck Cressel, a public safety worker, was assigned to walk through the neighborhood an hour before the trash truck arrived.
AT FIRST, Deavors toured Tralee before Cressel arrived, noting problems with the way trash was presented.
When he finds a problem, Cressel writes out a buff-colored hang tag to inform residents what they’re not doing right. The card carries no punitive measure.
The first week, it took Cressel five hours to complete his rounds of 125 townhouses. Last Friday, it took 35 minutes, Deavors said.
“We are at the point now where he is able to drive through and check it.
“He gets out, writes a notice, and puts it on the door That lets people know what they are not doing correctly. It has been a learning process,” she said.
“The hardest habit we have to break is putting cardboard out. It needs to go to the recycle center.
Also, “We have encouraged people to use their garbage disposal to its fullest potential. Please recycle."
The effort at Tralee has focused on accountability and education.
Herndon’s trash ordinance says trash must be placed within eight feet of a curb, but it doesn’t designate which curb.
That sometimes resulted in wandering trash bags. By asking residents to keep their trash on their own property, Deavors said,
they had accountability and price.
It was a process of “just trying to get people to do those mundane things that are so easy if you are in the habit of doing them, and so difficult if you are not,” she said.
“At the end of the trash day, we publish a tally sheet of how many houses on each court put trash out,” she said. The sheet notes correct and incorrect containers, whether lids were tightly placed, if recyclables were put out with the trash, and the number of houses that got it right.
“There was a little competition going on [among the four courts in the neighborhood], Deavors said.
“That motivated people too. It was interesting to hear people say ‘We were only one lid away this week.’”
People with questions were referred to Tralee’s management. “We have a management company. Help is available by telephone, both in English and Spanish," said Deavors.
Tralee HOA board members were also available to help, offer suggestions, and to be non-judgmental to residents seeking information.
“WE DON’T WANT to become the Gestapo of trash. “That is not the objective,” said Colan. “It is just to get things under control.
Words fail me to describe the intensity of the effort that [the Tralee] HOA put forth,” he said.
“If you were to go to any other townhouse community you would see a very different situation,” he said.
But what has worked at Tralee can work anywhere, Deavors said.
“Townhouse communities are different from single family detached communities,” she said. “It is a difficult thing to get a standard in your community and hold it.
"[The HCAC] is a place where these communities can come together and present their problems, and work on them. They can be part of the solution, rather than part of the problem,” she said.
It is the citizens who will tell the Town Council what they need to support their effort, Colan said. “We are going to ... listen to what they want. We will reserve judgment on whether we still request the [$25] fee [for noncompliance],” he said.
“I personally hesitate on a stronger ordinance, but it may be necessary,” said Town Council member John DeNoyer.
“The Tralee experiment was a cooperative thing between the HOA and the town. Every development of that kind is going to be different. We will never be 100 percent in terms of trash pickup, but I think we are making progress. The Can It program did an awful lot, but still there are pockets where it is not working,” DeNoyer said.
“It may require an ordinance with penalties.
A proposed $25 penalty would be levied only after three infractions in a row. It would be stronger than what town refuse workers now have for enforcement: “Basically nothing,” DeNoyer said. “They can refuse to pick up their trash.”