GR: Overstuffed trash cans could pose health risk

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — With so many people using the extra time at home to organize and declutter, the city of Grand Rapids is seeing a significant spike in the amount of trash it’s hauling.

“It stands to reason, people are at home, they’re cleaning things out,” explained James Hurt, public services director for the city. “Families are all in the house where normally they’d be working. So they’re generating more trash at home.”

Hurt said there has been a 15% to 20% increase in trash tonnage since the stay-at-home order was instituted in March.

That means city workers are also dealing with more violations.

“We’re seeing some overloaded (trash cans). We’re seeing material coming out to the curb that’s in violation,” Hurt described.

News 8 followed a Grand Rapids garbage truck for just a few minutes and spotted several instances of trash bags piled high atop garbage cans.

Trash haulers are encountering more discarded furniture, too.

“Overloaded (trash cans), trash on the ground, couches and mattresses that are not stickered to be picked up properly — that starts to create a potential health issue,” Hurt said.

The city is giving residents more leeway right now, but drivers cannot ignore egregious violations. The driver News 8 followed had to get out of the truck several times to post warnings on inappropriately placed trash.

A Grand Rapids garbage truck driver gets out to write a trash violation. (April 16, 2020)

“The more they have to get in and out of a truck, that exposes them even more to…. what might be out there in the community,” explained Hurt, who noted the city has equipped drivers with masks and gloves.

Normally, drivers stay in their trucks, which have automated arms that pick up the trash receptacles.

“We want to make sure they’re protected, and that they’re adhering to safe distancing guidelines from residents who might be coming up to talk to them,” Hurt said. “Also, it’s not really clear what might be on this material, whether it’s a couch, whether it’s a mattress. How long is the virus lasting on this material?”


Under city garbage guidelines, residents are supposed to make sure the lids are closed when they place the cans at the curb. However, under these challenging circumstances, the city is trying to show some leniency.

“If the lid is open a little bit, that’s OK,” Hurt allowed. “What we don’t want to see is five bags piled on top of it, and it’s totally overloaded so now the driver has to get out… to collect that material.”

Hurt said an initial citation posted on the offending trash serves as a warning to the resident to clean up the mess. If it’s still there a week later, the city will remove it and charge the resident for the pickup cost, which depends on the type and volume of the discarded material.

“The idea with the (initial) violation is to give them an opportunity to correct that problem,” Hurt explained. “So if they do have a mattress or a cart that’s overloaded, perhaps they bring something back in their garage, set it on the side of the house, whatever they can do to try to minimize that overloading of the cart, and then put it out the next week.”


Since the stay-at-home directive, the city has made it possible to buy extra trash bags and yard waste tags online to help people stay away from high-traffic stores. If you choose to buy online, the city will now deliver the trash bags to your home and mail you the yard waste tags.

You still have to purchase bulk item tags at major stores, but the city is considering offering those online as well, depending on how the other online sales go.

Hurt urged residents to maintain an acceptable social distance when interacting with city workers, no matter what job they’re performing.

“They go home to their families after work so I encourage that social distancing with all of our residents right now,” he said.

He also encouraged everyone to treat the city’s essential workforce with kindness and respect.

“We want to recognize those employees,” he said. “They are reporting every day. It’s not like they’re staying at home. They’re the ones coming to work every day and serving the community, and I applaud them for their efforts.”