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Illegal Dumping Ruining Worcester Neighborhoods

Thursday, July 19, 2012


Illegal dumping is on the rise, and residents and city council members are demanding action.  Neighborhoods are being ruined by the growing problem, and many factors that contribute to the problem – vacant lots, foreclosures, and industrial areas – are on the rise.

Entire living room sets, bath tubs, and televisions are just a few examples of common household bulk trash that ends up on Worcester streets.

Affecting Residents

At the city council meeting, District 4 Councilor, Sarai Rivera, spoke about the issue and brought one resident’s concern to the agenda.

The report of illegal dumping in the dead end of Princeton Street is a prime example of areas in Worcester that are facing the brunt of this problem, areas with lots of renters, empty lots, industry, and train tracks.

“What’s important here is the number of vacant properties that area banks and people neglect,” said GoLocal MINDSETTER™ Grace Ross. “We are in an area with a high number of vacant properties, and this problem is expensive. We’re paying for the city and police to track those properties and there’s no question that there’s a link.” Ross has seen many firsthand cases where people are still trying to hold on to foreclosed properties, situations that often end in illegal dumping.

The ‘Trash Monster’

Local resident, Gwen Walsh, who received an MBA from Clark University has done plenty of research on litter and illegal dumping in Worcester.

During her data collection, she found what she called, the Trash Monster.

“We found something about a block away from Crystal Park in an old parking lot. It was a chain link fence wrapped in vines and brambles that were covered in objects like glass and baby strollers, televisions and couches,” Walsh said. “We definitely saw whole living rooms and sets on the sides of the roads.”

Her research focuses on a neighborhood hit hard by illegal dumping, Main South.

“The worst areas for illegal dumping are industrial sites, the CSX site, anything along the train tracks,” she said. “Dead ends are bad, too.”

According to the Regional Environmental Council’s Executive Director, Steve Fischer, sites in Worcester with the most trash include areas both off the beaten path and right in the city center, including vacant lots, dead end roads, and spots near industrial parks.

“It varies a bit. Essentially some places are off the beaten path, we might see a truck-load of construction or furniture dumped,” he said. “Tougher places in past years have been lots in the center city.”

Who’s to Blame

Walsh says that while their findings showed plenty of household garbage, others were also to blame. Contractors leave messes, too, she said. “It’s people with their household garbage but also contractors working on houses. We found old bath tubs, discarded sheet rock, mattresses and furniture,” she said.

Taking Responsibility

The most problematic areas are places where no one is directly held to blame, making dead ends and gray areas around train tracks primary spots.

“I know that CSX has installed security cameras to deter illegal dumping, and they saw some success with that, but maybe they should install more,” Walsh said. “It seems like the main issue and really the worst areas occur where no one has taken responsibility for cleaning it. The city sweeps streets, but they don’t do private roads or dead ends. The areas that border train tracks – it’s unclear who’s responsibility that is.”

Why Worcester’s Policy is Good and Bad

The city's Pay As You Throw policy, which forces residents to pay for trash disposal via a bag fee, has both helped and hurt the trash situation in Worcester.  The Pay As You Throw program has increased the amount of recycling in the city, but it has also increased the amount of littering and illegal dumping, according to Walsh's findings and many other articles on the subject.

“There is a correlation. We noticed that just visually and we did research, but I think it’s all about weighing the benefits and drawbacks,” Walsh said. “There is an increase of illegal dumping but also recycling. When you look at it they’re pretty cheap. In the long run, they’re dollar a week. That’s a complicated argument.”

Walsh added that in the group’s work, they noticed more instances of large household items that wouldn’t fit in the city’s trash bags.

“I think one of the big reasons people leave whole living room sets and things of that nature is because they don’t know what to do with their furniture,” she said. “With the high rental rate, there are a lot of people moving, and things don’t fit in your moving truck.

“The city has large waste removal days, but those are not well advertised. If people were more aware of how they could do it cheaply... It looks pretty appealing to leave it on the side of the road when the other option is to paying $100 for removal,” she added.

What’s Being Done to Help

Groups like the Regional Environmental Council and the city’s Keep Worcester Clean initiative show that while the problem is growing, there are efforts to curb it.

Year to date, the Keep Worcester Clean team has eliminated 24 tons of miscellaneous trash from the streets as well as 72 abandoned cars. 65 shopping carts and 216 tires have also been cleaned up from city streets. The group has also picked up 1,803 bags of litter and miscellaneous debris, while Keep Worcester Clean has also dealt out $8300 in fines.


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