Eagan residents are balking at a plan to remove trash receptacles in the city's neighborhood parks, requiring residents to instead take their waste with them when they leave.

City officials say they hope the plan, called "Pack In, Pack Out," will not only save money but result in people bringing fewer disposable items to parks, helping the city and Dakota County meet sustainability goals. The change is planned for June.

"It's really kind of a camper's philosophy," said Andrew Pimental, Eagan's parks and recreation director. "It's an accountability factor."

Pimental emphasized that the program is an experiment and garbage cans will only be absent in 13 of the city's 60 parks, two of which already lack cans. It would be a "crazy idea" to remove trash cans in the larger, busier parks, he said.

The idea took shape after the county passed an ordinance saying that any garbage can must also have an accompanying recycling container. Eagan had 225 trash cans in parks, and the city's standard recycling bin is an expensive model, Pimental said. Putting one in every park would add up, as would buying an additional garbage truck and hiring another staff person — together, those changes would total about $250,000, Pimental said.

The ordinance is part of the county's environmental efforts, including making progress toward Minnesota's goal to recycle 75% of waste by 2030.

But residents have blasted the program on social media.

Jeanette York called the plan "ridiculous" and said the city will see an increase in littering; her neighborhood park already has a problem, she said.

"I actually feel like it's really going to backfire on them," York said.

Megan Radke said her nephew plays in Slater Acres Park, near her house. She voiced residents' most frequently cited concern: dog poop.

"Is everyone really going to clean up that poo?" she said.

Pimental said he's aware of residents' concerns and he has heard the worries about left-behind dog droppings: "That's a fear that a lot of people have," he said.

Adding stations to collect dog waste and diapers later is a possibility, he said.

Sue Bast, an environmental specialist for Dakota County Recycling, said the department worked with Eagan to research and plan "Pack In, Pack Out."

Dakota Valley Recycling is a partnership between Eagan, Apple Valley, Lakeville and Burnsville. Each city makes its own decisions, Bast said, and so far only Eagan is trying the new approach.

A local "master recycler" encouraged officials to try the plan, which is used effectively in various kinds of parks across the U.S., Bast said.

Rochester, Minn., started its own "Pack In, Pack Out" program in 2020 because of the pandemic and to help meet sustainability goals, said Michael Nigbur, the city's parks and forestry division head. Of the city's 139 parks, about 100 are neighborhood parks where trash cans were removed.

"I would say there was some resistance to start with," Nigbur said.

Early on, he said, "conscientious objectors" would pile up poop bags in parks. Complaints decreased after the first month, he said.

Garbage cans have been added back to a few parks, Nigbur said, but the plan continues. He said he sees picking up after oneself at parks as a "personal responsibility."

A few people online posted positive comments, with one saying the city is ahead of its time. But others, like Brenda Piatz, said residents pay enough taxes to hire someone to pick up trash in parks.

She said kids won't take trash with them and people won't produce less garbage just because there's no can nearby.

"I thought it was the stupidest idea I ever heard of," Piatz said. "Eagan parks are not the Boundary Waters."

Erin Adler • 612-673-1781