Should We Add Trash Receptacles to a Recreational Path?

By Dom Nozzi

An advisory board I serve on was asked whether we support spending money to pay for additional trash receptacles on a bicycle/pedestrian recreational path.

I pointed out that in my experience over the past several years, there seems to be a decline in the number of trash receptacles. I don’t know why that is, but my suspicion is that there are policies/regulations in place that require trash receptacles to be coupled with compost and recycling receptacles. Such requirements can significantly increase installation, maintenance, and servicing costs, and I imagine many are now opting to not provide any trash receptacles at all rather than having to pay the added cost of the recycle/compost.

 If this is true, the recycle/compost requirement has the unintended consequence of creating more litter in our communities.

I have written long-range waste and recycling plans for a college town, as well as regulations for trash receptacles near sidewalks. That experience showed me that receptacles too close to sidewalks or benches are a problem.

I have bicycled on recreational trails countless times and have never felt inconvenienced by the lack of receptacles. Never in my life have I even considered littering, even if I had not encountered a receptacle for several hours. I suspect that nearly everyone we know would say the same thing. Seems to me that if a person is so uncivil and irresponsible that they would litter on a public trail, adding receptacles will not reduce littering by such folks.

As an aside, when I was a city planner I once had a code enforcement officer for that city inform me that when he asked a college student why he left so much trash in his front yard, the student stated that the US Constitution gives Americans the ”liberty” to litter. That is the sort of person who will litter rather than walking three feet to use a receptacle.

In sum, I voted against installing a new waste receptacle on the trail.

Aside #2: If littering on a recreational trail is a problem, and I believe it is, why not consider an “Adopt a Trail” program? This is a program where folks get their names or name of their organization posted on the trail when they agree to periodically clean up litter on the trail. Here is one example: https://www.virginiacapitaltrail.org/adoptatrail

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