San Francisco residents navigate sidewalks filled with increasing piles of mattresses, shelving, and other furniture
Angel Mayorga, a 63-year-old resident who has served the mission his entire life, recently watched a “young man” pull up in a U-Haul and have three or four pieces of furniture “near me,” as he wrote, dropped in indignation.
So, yes, he explains, he has “noticed an increase in old garbage and furniture on the streets that have been dumped somewhere”.
It turns out he’s right. When you walk the streets of San Francisco, old office chairs, broken Ikea shelves, and dirty mattresses are just as common as Honda Civics.
According to 311 records, complaints about trash and trash in the mission have increased 21 percent over the past six months to an average of 2,988 per month. Most of these complaints are about bulky items, similar to those dumped outside Mayorga’s home near 16th Street and Albion Street.
Residents who have to discard large items can schedule a roadside pickup of bulky items through Recology twice a year at no additional cost. The company, currently under investigation for suspected bribery, said it takes an average of 10 days to get an appointment, but that seems rare. On January 12th, 2020, when one of the editors at Mission Local made an appointment, the earliest pickup was January 30th. On January 19th, the next available date was February 15th.
Others said that according to residents, it takes weeks, if not more than a month, to get an appointment.
Even in normal times, if a resident moves or wants to get rid of something quickly, they can throw it down a side street.
Robert Reed, a spokesperson for Recology, says that prior to the pandemic, Recology had 22 trucks and 22 drivers collecting abandoned garbage and assigned to the bulky item recycling program.
Reed said they noticed an increase in requests during the pandemic and hired four more drivers. This has increased the collection capacity for bulky items by 60 percent.
This allowed Recology to add four new routes for the bulky item recycling program (from 10 to a total of 14 routes) and expand the service to include Saturday pickup, Reed said.
But it doesn’t seem enough. And when the furniture ends up on the sidewalk and local residents like Mayorga file a 311 complaint, it’s up to the public works department to send 311 bulky item pickup requests to Recology and Recology to service public bins and remove large pieces of furniture for residents who have made an appointment.
Rachel Gordon of San Francisco Public Works admitted residents may be reluctant to wait 10 days or more for Recology to arrange a pickup.
So, says Gordon, Public Works is involved [Recology] via a pilot program to combat the collection of bulky items “by prioritizing people who make appointments.
The number of agreed pick-up times and the tonnes collected confirm the popularity of the bulky item recycling program.
The number of pick-up appointments has tripled in 10 years from 31,163 in 2011 to 90,108 in the first 11 months of 2020. The total number of tons collected under the program has more than doubled in 10 years from 4,386 in 2011 to 9,156 in the first 11 months of 2020.
According to Reed, the requirements for recycling bulky items increased 47 percent between 2019 and 2020.
So are the complaints. In the past six months, the complaints in the mission have increased by 514 after 311 dates. In particular, requests to remove large bulky items such as furniture have risen to an average of 1,428 in the past six months, compared to 900 in the previous six months, or by 59 percent.
An increase in the number of residents moving out of the city has not contributed to a permanent problem of dumping.
According to the US Post, around 89,000 households have left the city since the pandemic began in mid-March. The hike with large items left on the sidewalk is therefore a sign of the times. But even before the pandemic, getting rid of bulky items quickly can take a long time. It’s also unclear how many people moved to San Francisco during this time.
Mayorga said it shouldn’t be up to residents to keep reporting 311 about trash and large items on the street.
Gordon from DPW said they are trying to reach out to people and make them understand that it is important to do their part to keep the city clean.
“People decide they’d rather have the convenience of dumping it on the street,” rather than properly disposing of things, Gordon said.
Paul Monge, a legal advisor to Supervisor Hillary Ronen, agreed that dumping had increased.
“The high frequency of movement – with people breaking their leases to move to more affordable housing or out of town – has led to an increase in litter on the streets and dumping of used furniture,” said Monge.
Ticketing was difficult, if not impossible.
“In a city our size and the number of people there, enforcement is usually complaint driven because of the amount of issues that need to be addressed. Scouring the streets of things to be cleaned is difficult, so the responses from departments are determined by complaints, ”continued Monge.
Goodwill, which typically accepts furniture donations and even picks up used furniture, will not be accepted at most donation locations except at 121 Wisconsin St. and 3605 Buchanan St. as of January 20th.
This is also a likely contributing factor to the increase in large objects visible on the streets of San Francisco.
So for the time being, expect more furniture on the street in addition to the pilot program between Recology and DPW. Nobody seems to have any plans to prevent this from happening.
“There is room for improvement and we try to respond, step up and do more when demand has increased.” said Reed, who added that Recology wanted to do more to alert residents to their pick-up program. But awareness seems less of a problem than the patience to wait for the recology to come over.