Public trash cans are meant for litter, not household garbage, officials say. Offenders could face a $100 fine, minimum.

People using downtown Utica’s litter bins for their household garbage items has been a decades-long issue, according to city officials.

But as downtown buildings are restored for purposes including loft apartments, could the problem get worse?

“As you have increased foot traffic, it’s going to be automatic that you’re going to have more waste down there,” said William Rabbia, executive director of the Oneida-Herkimer Solid Waste Authority. “But how do you solve the problem of someone bringing down their blue bags and jamming it into those cans? That’s a tough problem to solve.”

New loft apartments and businesses taking up historic buildings that have been, or are being, redeveloped have been pointed to as examples of downtown Utica’s revival in recent years.

The resulting increase in foot traffic could make for an increased need for more amenities from the city, such as benches and trash cans, said Dave Short, the city’s commissioner of public works. That, in turn, could lead to more opportunities for illegal dumping.

A byproduct of this issue? It costs the city money.

Household waste that’s picked up through normal garbage collection routes is charged to the solid waste fund, which is made up of revenue from blue bag and annual user fees, Rabbia said. He said other garbage — such as what’s picked up from public receptacles located downtown and in city parks, for example — is charged to the Department of Public Works.

“It’s an issue for us downtown because it costs us money," he said. "Trash is weighed and you pay by the weight. Those trash cans are meant for litter. … It’s not meant for household garbage. That increases the weight. The city pays for it, and as that goes up, that line item in my budget goes up to compensate for it.”

Short said the exact cost impact from the issue is not outlined in his department’s budget.

He estimated there are about 25 trash cans in the downtown area. From microwaves to mattresses and everything in between, Short said he has seen all sorts of garbage piled in or around the cans through his 21 years with the city.

“It's a double-edged sword,” he said. “We ask people to utilize them for controlling litter on the street, and yet there are people out there that utilize them for other activities. That’s better than just tossing that (garbage) out to the street, but the whole point of that trash can is for really litter, not for cleaning out an apartment or a business.”

To enforce against the problem, Solid Waste Authority garbage inspectors sift through trash for evidence to track down the responsible parties. Offenders could face a $100 fine, minimum, though Short said it can sometimes be difficult tracking down renters who have moved out of their apartments.

Rabbia, however, said while more foot traffic could have an impact, he does not expect the new housing will lead to an increase in illegal dumping.

“It sort of really depends on the facility, the landlord and how they currently get rid of their trash,” he said.

Short said it has its highs and lows.

"Some years, we don’t see a lot of activity, and other years, we’ll see it three or four years straight," he said "You see it a lot on weekends when you drive on Genesee Street on a Saturday and Sunday, these trash cans are just loaded.”

Contact reporter Greg Mason at 315-792-5074 or follow him on Twitter (@OD_Mason).