Complaints About Illegal Trash Dumping Spike During the Pandemic

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There's a lot of trash talk going on around the D.C. area. The News4 I-Team found in March alone, there were 400 more calls to 311 about illegal dumping in the District than the same time last year.

"You can sort see some of the stuff that was left at the bottom of the pile, " said Northeast D.C. resident Griffin Friedman as he showed the I-Team where people often dump their trash in the alley behind his house. He first noticed the unsightly heap last March when he moved in.

"There was a pretty massive trash pile over there," said Friedman.

But it was no simple pile of litter.

"I mean, you literally could climb up it and fall in and never be found again," Friedman said.

Pictures he sent to the I-Team show a massive mix of construction, debris, trash and other personal stuff dumped and left behind

"We figured that was a temporary thing that no one could possibly leave something like that sitting out for months at a time," he said.


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But what he found was that even after calling 311 to have it cleaned up, the trash piles would reappear.

"Literally the next day someone dropped off two mattresses and then a bunch of furniture and then boxes and it'll just sort of grow, " said Friedman.

His alley appeared to be a magnet for illegal dumpers.

"It's just, it's annoying that people are willing to make their literal trash someone else's problem, " he said. The News4 I-Team found he's not the only one annoyed.  When we posted online about  illegal dumping we were inundated with photos from people around DC ticked off about what people were dropping off near their homes. 

Photos: Complaints About Illegal Trash Dumping Spike During the Pandemic

"It's gotten worse since the pandemic," said Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Ursula Higgins.

She said she's been hearing from residents weekly.

"It's out of control,” she said. “Toilets, sinks, mattresses, box springs, chairs, dining room tables."

She blames it on more people being home this past year, many of them updating their homes leading to more waste.

"What's ironic is because we have the Fort Totten transfer station about five minutes from here in which D.C. residents can dump their items free of charge," said Higgins.

But, she says, often times the cars she sees creeping down the alley at night are not from D.C., but Maryland.

The I-Team reviewed a month’s worth of 311 calls and found more people are reporting illegal dumping. In that month there were more than 1,100 requests for clean-up.

"For the month of March, we received four hundred more calls than we did the year before,” said Department of Public Works Interim Director Christine Davis.

And it can take time to fully investigate illegal dumping. Crews can’t just show up and clean up the mess. They want to find out who’s behind the dumping.

"Absolutely. Our job is not only to clean, but to deter the illegal activity. So, we have to do our investigation first," said Davis.

And as they say, it's a dirty job, one that initially falls on inspectors like Mari Armistead, who responds to the service requests to take photos and look for any clues.

"We look to see if there's any material to find out who we can cite for the illegal dumping," said Armistead.

She reports to the proper agency that would help clean up the site eventually.

"What we tell the public is that it will be resolved in 13 days, but we generally resolve it much sooner than that,” Davis said.

The I-Team found so far this year most of the calls — 23% — have been in Ward 5 where Griffin lives.

"I think people realize that there's no real consequences for doing this," said Friedman.

He stressed the waiting can be frustrating, so he and some of his neighbors have taken their own steps by posting signs and hanging fake cameras to deter the dumpers.

"We rented a U-Haul truck and drove a lot of the stuff up to Fort Totten," he said.

He even turned into something of a trash detective himself, tracking down some of the culprits.

"We ended up piecing together enough,” he said. “It's hard to tear off all of every single label."

He contacted one group and got some action.

"Who actually came to pick their stuff up,” he said. “So they were the only sort of real success story out of all that. But it was satisfying.”

One small triumph in a year with a mountain of challenges.

DPW said it does want to hear from residents who get tag numbers or descriptions of vehicle dumping the trash. To report illegal dumping call 311 or go here. Reported by Scott MacFarlane, produced by Rick Yarborough, shot by Steve Jones and Jeff Piper, and edited by Jeff Piper.

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