Semper Fidelity: The pitfalls of illegal dumping

A pedestrian was surprised recently to see what appeared to be household trash sticking out of the top of an official city garbage can in front of an upscale apartment building at 1000 E. Market St.

The giveaway? The refuse included mail with the names of residents at the East Market address, including a Fidelity Investments statement for a $15,000 account.

With the cost of Charlottesville curbside pickup about to double, using city street cans may look like a viable way to skirt the high cost of waste disposal.

However, public service manager Steve Lawson doesn't advise it. In fact, doing so is a Class 1 misdemeanor that carries a maximum $2,500 fine and/or up to 12 months in jail.

"We didn't have a problem with household trash in dumpsters or street cans until we went to trash stickers in the first place," says Lawson. "It isn't a huge problem, but it's a persistent one."

Since 1992, the city won't haul household trash unless it carries a sticker. Currently, a 13-gallon trash bag requires a 50-cent sticker, and a 32-gallon bag costs a dollar. If City Council approves a budget that doubles those fees, Lawson expects to see more violators when the new rates go into effect July 1.

When household garbage is illegally dumped, Ronnie Shifflett, city refuse supervisor, looks for names and addresses. "We notify the people that it has to stop, and they do," reports Shifflett.

Lawson can't recall the city prosecuting anyone. "We advise them should it happen again, we will prosecute," he says.

The owner of the Fidelity account, who works for UVA's athletic department, declined to speak to The Hook on the record, but did express some concern about his privacy after his trash ended up in a newspaper office.

Another resident, whose name and address appeared on a Soft Surroundings catalog in the same street can, did not return The Hook's call. Nor did CBS Rentals, which manages the property.

Actually, residents in the building don't need stickers for their trash because the building has a dumpster but they're in trouble if they use the street can in front of the building.

"It was just a front door thing," says Shifflett. "They probably dropped it off waiting for the bus."

After the discovery, the city moved the street can on East Market about 300 feet. "Since then," says Shifflett, "it has not been abused."

Another strategy the city uses to thwart residential dumpers is putting smaller openings on the garbage cans. "The street cans we purchase now with small openings make it a lot harder to get household trash in," says Lawson.

The threat of a Class 1 misdemeanor may not be enough to deter scofflaws who use street cans or private dumpsters to save a few bucks, but here's another consideration: the danger that identity thieves will end up with the dumper's personal financial information or worse, that a newspaper will.