East St. Louis has 10,000 households, according to the 2010 U.S. Census. Waste Management said it has 5,000 paying customers in the city. There seems to be a problem there.
While the problem could be worse, let’s say the population has really dropped and city estimates are correct that somewhere around a third of the homes don’t have trash service. Where is all that trash going?
Should the national media come to town because East St. Louis is a beacon of recycling resolve? Should we be dismayed that again we have trash-filled vacant lots as the city saw in the early 1990s?
Let’s recycle the story for those of you who have forgotten or never knew: The harshest part of the city’s financial collapse in the early 1990s was the end of city-funded trash service. No one was collecting the city’s trash, and the vacant lots were choked with garbage, which attracted vermin and led to city firefighters putting out 762 trash fires in 1991.
It was a mess. It took a whole lot of volunteer effort to remove 47,500 tons of trash from 250 city blocks. By August 1992, there was a deal in place and Waste Management provided trash service in exchange for the city guaranteeing residents’ trash bills would be paid. That burden shifted to individual trash billing in the late 1990s.
Here we are in 2016 and the city sees a need to force people to pay their sewer and trash bills by linking trash service to occupancy permits. Go three months without paying either your sewer or trash bill and you lose your occupancy permit.
They are sorting out the legalities, but it is hard not to support this move. People have no business living in a house without trash service any more than they should live in a house without sewer service.
These are matters of public health with which even the poorest household must deal.