Left Overs From 2004: or “Be Careful What You Throw Out”…

***UPDATED 02/10/05***

So I got a ticket. –Technically, I suppose it’s a notice of code violation. But before you start guessing why, let me clear this much up: no car was involved. I got this one standing still. What had I done? I took that damn credit card junk-mail application I was carrying, mutilated it, and tossed it.

No really. That’s it.

I was leaving my home in the afternoon one fine Saturday and grabbed the mail. Leafing through it, I was attempting to do a little domestic multi-tasking. But we all know how it is: half mail, half junk. I’m particularly offended by CapitalOne at the moment, so I toss their invitations automatically. But, it’s not really safe to just toss the letter (identity theft, et al.), so I ripped it into as tiny a bundle of pieces as I could. Once tossed in the can, the mass was forgotten.

Until several hours later, that is, when I arrived home to find more mail in my mailbox. Only it wasn’t a letter. It was an official looking slip of joy from the City of Philadelphia. Confused, I read it several times before it sank in: I was being fined for throwing trash into a trash-can.

Code Violation Image

I suppose it’s safe to assume that the person who nabbed me after my nefarious act was one of the Center City District’s (CCD) “Goodwill Ambassadors”. These teal-clad psuedo-cops are the friendly, informative, CPR-trained, weaponless arm of city services. They coordinate with the police department, have sensitivity training, know the city well, blah blah blah. I don’t want to get down on these folks: they are, perhaps, one of the better things to have happened to Center City in a really long time. That and all the good restaurants. And they do a pretty great job. I have no idea what they cost us. But until this ticket-thing, I would have said they were worth it (almost) no matter what the cost. But then, I really didn’t see the cost, now did I? Not until I got slapped with a fine for littering in a trash can.

Turns out, not only am I not the only one to have suffered this fate, but there has even been press about it. –Well, ok, it’s the City Paper, but check the date! This has been going on since at least 2002! Poor guy! He was even trying to give the city and his neighborhood a helping hand. Now he was forced to take his reasonable questions to… the Tax Review Board? Yup. Turns out that’s who handles taxpayer appeals of this nature: “The Tax Review Board adjudicates taxpayer appeals from all city assessments or bills with the exception of real estate tax assessments and real estate tax principal.” Umm. OK… All I was trying to do was rid myself of some unwanted junk mail. In my zeal and disbelief I tried to track him down through the City Paper but, alas, had no luck. I figured I could get some clarity and perhaps guidance. What should I do? Should I fight this? It seems ridiculous enough. We misusers should stick together! But, in the end, it was not to be.

Close-up of code violation slip

And just what constitutes misuse, you might ask? Well, apparently placing anything that can be identified and traced back to you into a city trash can qualifies. As does, I suspect, being witnessed tossing in a large amount of material that is obviously not incidental trash. Like a 10-speed, or eight or nine car tires. Perhaps large sections of dry-wall would also qualify. I’m kinda fuzzy on the exact quantities involved too, but I’m pretty sure if it doesn’t have your name on it, you’d have to get caught in the act.

Apparently this is a pretty regular occurrence. Don’t take my word for it! They went to the trouble of printing violation tickets with this code clearly marked. (Oddly enough the city codes, as listed on several different places on the City of Philadelphia website, don’t include a 10-702REG code. [shorthand pdf version] Hmmmmm.)

So, ok. I’ve seen some references on the site to automotive littering regulations, and it being specifically referenced in regards to dumping. I was initially assuaged somewhat when I thought about it in that context. Dumping is a big issue for the city, It’s usually perpetrated by businesses and other individuals who are passing on their responsibility for costly removal onto the city. It’s not like it’s difficult to arrange with some contractor or disposal company to have them come and pick up waste. It simply boils down to money or time. And they say time is money so I do the math. I’m fairly certain that the additional effort to deal with large quantities of trash in a municipal can costs somebody something.

But then I get mad again. I think to myself “wait a minute! One of two things happened: Either someone SAW me place that ripped-up wad of paper into the trashcan, or (and this part would boggle my mind) they went digging into the trash to make sure there was no inappropriate refuse”! I tend to believe the former, but who really knows? And regardless, someone had to reach into the trash, gather all the pieces, reassemble them, and when the “offender” was once again discernable, WALK THE TICKET TO MY FRONT DOOR! I’m paying the city for this service? And hey wait! Don’t they ALREADY have to pick trash up from the municipal cans? I mean they are gonna empty the cans anyway. They’re even going to do that more regularly than they get my garbage. So I saved them some time, right? I walked this trash to a pickup spot… But no. I have to put it out in front of my house. It’s household trash.

So in the end, what did I do? despite the urgings of friends and co-workers (all of whom were very supportive, but not staring at a potential $300 to $2300 ticket for “illegal dumping”), I knuckled. I swallowed back the bitter bile in my throat and mailed in my check. Am I happy with my decision? Well, in the sense that it is now behind me and thankfully so, yes. But it keeps coming back to me. Am I being silly here? Does this really make sense and I’m just not seeing it? Are all the notions of civic responsibility really justification for my paying people to dig through garbage to write me a ticket? Was I wrong?!

I don’t know anymore. But I DO know that the next time I choose to do something as wacky as throw out my “home” trash in a city receptacle, I’m sure as hell gonna coat it in something awful and pungent. If anyone wants to try to read that mess and give me a ticket I’ll gladly pay. Call it entertainment.

I suppose it’s worth adding that I found some letters to the Editor (in the CityPaper) from around the time of the article. The points of view are partisan to the city and city services, but explain why such a code exists. In a much more reasonable manner than I ever could. This is not to say I swallow any of it… šŸ˜‰


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