By Andrea Cordle
Trash is not a new issue in the Hilltop, but it is a persistent one.
On Aug. 7, the Greater Hilltop Area Commission hosted a trash summit at Briggs Road Baptist Church to bring city leaders and community members together to discuss possible solutions.
According to Hilltop commissioner Zerqa Abid, illegal dumping and trash cans that are just too full are the most common complaints coming from residents. She said the most impacted areas include South Central Hilltop, Highland West, and the Wedgewood Village Apartments.
Abid said Hilltop volunteers work tirelessly to clean the area, but as soon as someone picks up the trash, more can be found.
“Volunteers alone cannot keep the Hilltop clean,” said Abid. “We need proper funding.”
Commissioner Geoffrey Phillips said there is a lot of illegal dumping in the Hilltop. He said the amount of trash invites wild animals, like rats and racoons.
“This is dangerous,” said Phillips. “We should not have this.”
Several residents spoke out at the meeting about the problem.
“The amount of trash is sickening,” said Jim Boggs. “The residents cannot pick up all that trash.”
Lis Regula said there has been an increase in littering and dumping but a decrease in the number of times the city of Columbus picks up the trash.
“The bins are full, and they are not being emptied,” said Regula. “I keep hearing about all these programs, but I never see anything done.”
Tim Swauger, the administrator for the Columbus Division of Refuse, attended the trash summit and said city employees get frustrated with the issue just as residents do.
“We want a clean and safe neighborhood,” he said.
According to Swauger, people are not driving their trash to the Hilltop to dump it.
“This is coming from within,” he said.
He said much of the illegal dumping stems from landlords. The Hilltop has many rental units and when people move out, some leave their items in the alley and do not arrange for bulk pick-up. He said city crews will clean up the mess, and the next day, it is right back out there.
Last year, the city filed 58 charges of illegal dumping, resulting in 51 convictions, said Swauger. This year, the city has filed 30 charges which has led to nine convictions. In 2020, the city also enacted code changes that include civil penalties for those caught dumping. So far this year, the city has filed 41 civil penalties for approximately $39,000.
Regarding complaints from residents that report trash is not picked up weekly, Swauger said, “Our goal is 100 percent success. We don’t always reach that but over 99 percent of the trash is collected.”
The city collects trash each week. Recycling and yard waste are collected every other week.
According to Abid, the city needs to invest in the Hilltop to address the trash problem. She suggested creating trash truck follow-up crews to clean up what the division of refuse may miss. She also suggested funding for a public education campaign.
“It all boils down to money,” said Abid.
The commissioner said some other ways to improve the trash situation would be put more public trash cans along the main corridors, like West Broad Street and Sullivant Avenue, weekly litter cleanups, free replacement of stolen or damaged recycling bins, and changing the 300-gallon trash bins to the 90-gallon bin. This has already been done in certain areas in the Hilltop.
Several city council members attended the trash summit and said they would take the concerns of the community into consideration.
“It makes me angry to hear what you are facing,” said councilman Emmanuel Remy. “We have to continue to look for ongoing, sustainable solutions.”
Remy said the city partnered with the YMCA to hire nearly 400 young adults to clean neighborhoods. As of August, the participants have logged more than 7,000 hours of litter cleanup time and collected more than 34,000 pounds of trash. More than 11,000 pounds of that total came from the Hilltop.
Remy also spoke about the Cleaner Columbus program that hires organizations to employ homeless or under employed individuals to clean litter on commercial corridors.
“Litter is a symptom of overreaching other problems,” said Remy.
Councilman Rob Dorans suggested that the city review a reward program for information that leads to the conviction of illegal dumpers. He also said the city will launch a new 311 system this fall.
“It will be more user-friendly,” he said.