The trashy issue of downtown Athens

By Lacey Davis

The smell of downtown Athens on a Sunday morning is familiar to pedestrians who frequent the city. It’s a thick stench of old beer and garbage. Attention is turned from the beautiful, historic buildings to the smell rising from the sidewalks.

The issue of garbage in downtown Athens is different than most cities. There isn’t a place behind the businesses to put dumpsters or trash cans. This means that businesses are forced to leave their garbage bags on the sidewalk at night when there are already crowds of people spilling into the parking spaces and road. There have been attempts to fix this problem in the past, however few ideas have succeeded.

According to Jim Corley, Director of the Solid Waste Management in Athens-Clarke County, “Roll carts were used at one time and the carts were left on the sidewalks all the time. Dumpsters had been placed around the downtown area when the service was tax supported, but when it became a customer paid service it was changed to the current bag service.”

Corley explained the current system by saying, “The customers pay a fee for the bags that covers the cost of disposal. They also select a level of collection services based on the type of business they have. For example, restaurants have a mandatory seven day-a-week service, whereas a small business may only have two.”

Although the city picks up garbage three times a day, seven days a week, the current system of trash disposal leaves pedestrians with an unpleasant feeling after walking the streets of downtown.

Gemma Formby, a junior majoring in accounting, said, “When I think about what I’m stepping over at night or if I ever go downtown early in the morning, it’s just disgusting, really.”

Shayna Brandi, Formby’s roommate from Sandy Springs, agreed. “I don’t really understand the issue, honestly. I realize there aren’t side alleys near every business, but why can’t the employees just walk the trash down to a dumpster that is kept on the side?”

The department of sanitation can longer use the system that Brandi suggested because, at the time the plan involving the roll carts was implemented, there were few bars and restaurants. There are now over 100. Corley said another problem was that “very few workers are going to carry heavy bags of bottles or food waste for any distance. Additionally, there is not a way to track who is using a dumpster that is not in a controlled environment.”

Although pedestrians such as Formby and Brandi are dissatisfied with the way downtown Athens handles its trash, few complaints are filed overall.

Corley noted that the only times that the city receives complaints is when trash is outside at unauthorized times, meaning more than hour before scheduled pickup. Trash pickup is every day at 2 p.m., 11 p.m., and 4 a.m.

Residents are also told to put their garbage on the sidewalks. Dana Heyman, a sophomore living in a downtown apartment, said, “We can put our trash out any day of the week. It’s pretty convenient. We have specific times to put it out. It can’t be on the sidewalk for an extended period of time.”

However, the real issue doesn’t lie among the residential garbage. Compared to the smell and large amounts that come from bars and other late-night businesses, residents pose little damage to the overall cleanliness of downtown.

Frank Russo, a bartender in downtown Athens, said, “Some people have suggested cutting back and reducing the waste but there isn’t much we can do. The majority of our garbage comes from bottles that are a necessity in any bar.”

In Jacksonville, Florida, another college town with a popular downtown, they have a different trash plan in place. The city charges each business for trashcans. According to Fox 30 News, business owners are opposed to the idea of trash bags sitting on the sidewalk, claiming it is bad for business and downtown. The plan is losing money.

If Athens is looking to revamp its current system for trash pickup, they need innovative ideas. Learning from Jacksonville’s failing system and the former system of Athens that will no longer work, there aren’t many obvious options remaining.

There have been several meetings over the past year and more planned for the coming months between Waste Management and the Mayor and Commission to discuss options, according to Corley.

Regardless of the plan that results from these meetings, Corley added, “if the customer does not follow the rules there will always be some problems as a result.”

Here is a video of trash in downtown Athens during the day. This video shows how, even during one of the least busy parts of the day, trash is still an eyesore littering the streets. In a short, 30 second walk, there were multiple piles of trash.

Multiple bags are on the street corner at night in downtown Athens.

Multiple bags are on the street corner at night in downtown Athens.

A trash bag on the sidewalk of downtown Athens more than 2 hours before scheduled pickup.

A trash bag on the sidewalk of downtown Athens more than 2 hours before scheduled pickup.

A trash bag on the sidewalk of downtown Athens more than 2 hours before scheduled pickup.

A trash bag on the sidewalk of downtown Athens more than 2 hours before scheduled pickup.

A trash bag on the sidewalk of downtown Athens more than 2 hours before scheduled pickup.

A trash bag on the sidewalk of downtown Athens more than 2 hours before scheduled pickup.

A bag of trash on the sidewalk, making the streets of downtown appear dirty and cluttered.

A bag of trash on the sidewalk, making the streets of downtown appear dirty and cluttered.

A trash bag on the sidewalk of downtown Athens more than 2 hours before scheduled pickup.

A trash bag on the sidewalk of downtown Athens more than 2 hours before scheduled pickup.

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