Even though the downtown Walgreens keeps its dumpsters locked, vagrants have mastered the art of popping the locks on the plastic lids.
"Every day, we have homeless people rummaging through our dumpsters. They get trash all over the place, and then our employees have to clean it up," said Walgreens manager Sheila Scott.
Scott attended a meeting at the Center City Commission last week in which city public-works officials discussed an upcoming pilot program to rid downtown alleys of dumpsters.
The 30-day project will require business owners who keep dumpsters in the alleys to instead place trash in plastic bags held inside the business. City sanitation workers will make three to four stops at each business per day. The pilot program will affect businesses in the area bordered by Riverside Drive, Second Street, Court Avenue, and Monroe Avenue.
"One of our main problems downtown is dumpster divers. The vagrants and homeless pry lids open and scatter debris in the alleyways," said public-works director Dwan Gilliom. "Also, many homeless people do their 'business' in and around dumpsters since they can't use the bathrooms inside establishments. If you pass that walking through an alley on your way to lunch, you don't even want to eat lunch."
The pilot program, scheduled to start by the end of October, is modeled after a dumpster-free program in Seattle. Businesses in several historic districts there dispose of trash, recyclables, and compost in color-coded bags, which are picked up several times a day by Cleanscapes, a privately owned waste collection company.
"Our program is totally voluntary," said Signe Gilson, waste diversion manager for Seattle's Cleanscapes. "People have to call in and ask for service. But once people look into alleys free of dumpsters, it's a no-brainer. Alleys with dumpsters look disgusting and smell horrible."
The Memphis program will be managed by the city's sanitation service. Gilliom said the pilot project will not require business owners to separate trash into color-coded bags, but if the pilot goes well, the city would extend the program to all of downtown and require separation of trash and recyclables.
The public-works division also will draft a new ordinance requiring the removal of most of the dumpsters in downtown streets and alleys if the pilot is successful.
Business owners who currently store dumpsters on private property, as well as some apartment buildings and hotels, will not be affected.
Gilliom estimates the new program will require an additional 11 city sanitation employees, but since business owners would be asked to pay for the color-coded bags, he said the program will pay for itself.