As carts for single-sort recycling and organics waste add to the string of garbage carts sitting at the curb each week, cities face a challenge: what to do about storing all those bins.
People may love recycling, but they don't want to see carts on non-collection days, not even from the street. Cities are concerned that, like tall grass and peeling paint, sloppily stored carts are an eyesore that hints at neglect.
Golden Valley is the latest Twin Cities suburb to get resident complaints about the jumble of multicolored bins that linger in driveways after collection day. City staff is working on an ordinance that would require stored carts to be hidden from view from anyone on a street, sidewalk, trail or other public right of way.
"Years ago we just had garbage containers; now we have the larger recycling containers, and so many people have one or two yard waste containers," said Golden Valley Fire Chief Mark Kuhnly, whose job includes monitoring property maintenance. "You do end up with quite a lineup of containers at some houses."
Edina has been airing a public-service video reminding residents to store bins out of view. It has come up in St. Louis Park in connection with expanding recycling. Richfield dealt with the issue recently as part of a crackdown on property appearance.
"One of the things that came out in that discussion was how many garbage cans we had, how many colors they were, and when they were left out by the street and house, what did it make people think of Richfield?" said Mayor Debbie Goettel.
"Everyone has a week where they have to put a garbage bag to the side, or pack the cart to the top, but it's not just about that. It's about appearances. … It's about being neighborly. They can be screened, and it looks so much better."
No storage space
But hiding carts can be a challenge, especially when residents have single-car garages and small yards. While cities here haven't gone quite as far as the British city that had nine different bins for recycling, it's common in Twin Cities suburbs to have three and sometimes four carts for waste and recycling.
The carts are big. Standard recycling and garbage carts usually hold 95 gallons.
"If you have a single-car garage and you have a snowblower and a lawn mower and a bike in there, you're full," said Solvei Wilmot, Edina's recycling coordinator. "It adds to the challenge for residents. But we still have the expectation that they will store it out of view from the street in front of the house."
People who improperly store carts are subject to fines that in Edina range from $300 to $1,000. But Wilmot and officials in other cities said that to their knowledge, no one has ever been fined. Instead, cities send residents notices, sometimes repeatedly.
"We notify quite a few people, and typically once they are aware that it's a code issue, we have compliance," Wilmot said. "We'd rather work with them on ways to put [carts] out of view, and give them time to do that."
Back when Edina had small recycling bins, homeowner Sandra Holte got a notice about leaving her green box on the curb a day after collection. She still remembers how it annoyed her, and she was vocal on the city website when last fall she received an "insanely large" cart for single-sort recycling.
Holte has a one-car garage. She eventually traded the big recycling cart for a smaller one, but she still has two and sometimes three carts to trundle up and down the driveway once a week. After collection, they are tidily lined up next to her garage.
Is anyone looking?
In the winter, Holte's yard waste cart is hidden in the back yard, and she said she might be able to push the others behind some arborvitae. But Holte says people who walk down her street don't complain about garbage carts. They're looking at her gardens.
"If someone complains, I would say, 'Look to the left and look to the right,' and my yard looks pretty good," she said. "Garbage bins are a fact of life. We see garbage containers in the park. I mean, it is what it is, and I'm not going to worry about it."
Her trash hauler wheels her cart back to her garage after pickup. Holte said she does the same for her neighbors, concerned that a cart left on the road signals a homeowner who is gone.
"That's community," she said.
Next door in Richfield, one of the people who is trying to adjust to the new rule is City Countil Member Sue Sandahl.
"I voted for it, but it wasn't in my best interest," she said.
The ordinance requires carts to be stored in the rear or side of the property. Sandahl has a garden in her back yard and her house is on a corner, so it's difficult to hide the carts, wherever she puts them.
She is storing them next to the garden until a contractor builds a screening wall or a concrete pad for them.
"I have planted lilacs," she said. "Maybe they'll get big enough to hide them."