Last week, the Austin Code Department started a Twitter campaign called “Sad Couch” to raise awareness about the illegal dumping of bulk waste on sidewalks and roads in West Campus.
The “Sad Couch” campaign uses humor to invoke sympathy in Austin’s college-age population about the bulk trash problem and its consequences, according to Emily Jacobs, spokesperson for the Public Information Office.
“'Sad Couch’ is funny, but it is also gross and sad that there is all this trash everywhere causing health and traffic problems,” Jacobs said.
The lingering trash can create and exacerbate sanitation and parking problems in West Campus, according to John Hale, acting assistant division manager of the Austin Code Department.
“When a couch gets rained on a couple times, it holds stagnant water, which breeds mosquitoes and leads to potential sickness,” Hale said. “It also affects parking spots, because the size of the trash could force people to illegally park. It’s a safety issue all the way around.”
Apart from downtown, West Campus has the highest density of illegal dumping sites in the entire city of Austin, according to Hale.
“We noted 33 violations in a very small area two weeks ago during key collection and move in,” Hale said. “About a dozen of them are what you would call illegal dumping sites — or areas where either whole or half an entire apartment was just dumped.”
Student mindsets regarding their impermanent housing situations contribute to the problem, Hale said.
“One of our biggest problems is that, with students, until they graduate and start living here, they are not actually living here, so they have not really thought about what effect their trash has on their neighbors and their neighborhood,” Hale said.
According to Hale, the majority of dumping violations in West Campus occur between mid-May and mid-September with a peak during the end of July. The time periods correspond to traditional move-in and move-out dates enforced in leases.
In order to manage the increased presence of bulk trash during this period, the code department works with Austin Resource Recovery to appropriately schedule bulk trash pickups.
ARR provides bulk trash collection services for multi-family residences with five or fewer units, Emlea Chanslor, public information officer for ARR, said. The municipal code requires multi-family residences that have more than five units to hire a licensed private hauler to dispose of bulk and regular trash.
“Ultimately the expense for illegal dumping goes to the property owner,” Hale said. “When the property is public, such as a public alley, it is the taxpayer that has to pay for the cleaning costs, unfortunately.”
The presence of bulk trash in neighborhoods could even have financial consequences for property owners in the area, Jacobs said.
“[The trash] brings down property values,” Jacobs said. “Having trash around all the time does not bode well for someone trying to rent out or sell their property.”
Contacting the code department will connect citizens to the resources they need to dispose of their bulk trash, Hale said.
“The best thing to do is call 3-1-1,” Hale said. “We are here to help.”