Dealing With Dumpsters: To Lock or Not to Lock

Overflowing dumpsters can be found in many places across Malibu.

Support is growing for a city ordinance that would force business owners to keep dumpster lids closed—but some local experts think the city staff proposal does not go far enough.

“Dumpsters are left open every day, feeding and attracting the rodents,” Kian Schulman, co-founder of Poison Free Malibu told The Malibu Times. “The trash pick-up companies know their lids are often warped, ill-fitting, full of holes and cannot be closed, inviting the rodent population for an unlimited supply of food. Many dumpsters have no lids at all. This is in violation of Malibu’s present ordinance and, of course, shopping centers then put poison bait boxes all around the filthy trash dumpsters. A 24/7 lid-lock ordinance with tight fitting lids is the only answer.”

Bait boxes filled with rat poison are often placed around the overflowing dumpsters, leading to the secondary poisonings of our local wildlife, including bobcats, mountain lions, owls and hawks, as the poison travels up the food chain. 

“Dumpsters are often so overstuffed that the lids won’t close,” Schulman continued, “And unlocked lids also allow unauthorized access day and night by homeless individuals and illegal dumpers.” 

She pointed out that it’s cheaper for some local businesses and trash haulers to just maintain the status quo: Overstuffing saves businesses money, because it saves them the expense of ordering additional dumpsters or trash pick-ups. The trash companies profit because they get a fee for cleaning up spilled and exposed trash when they arrive on their day of pick-up, according to Schulman, plus they avoid the expense of replacing lids and don’t want the inconvenience of unlocking the lids.

The LA Times reported on May 25 that Estela Lopez, head of LA’s Downtown Industrial Business Improvement District, blamed trash and rats for a typhus outbreak that occurred there last October.

At an Environmental Sustainability Subcommittee meeting held last January, Schulman claimed, city council members Skylar Peak and Jefferson “Zuma Jay” Wagner directed staff to draft a dumpster lid-locking ordinance with tight-fitting lids for the City Council to vote on. That ordinance has yet to come forward.

Now, almost 18 months later, Malibu Environmental Sustainability Manager Craig George invented an alternative program to a lid-lock policy with input from Malibu’s two trash hauling companies—Universal Waste Systems and Waste Management. He presented his “Enhanced Dumpster Enforcement Program” at the May 13, 2019, subcommittee meeting.

Trash haulers were the ones consulted on how best to craft the ordinance because, George said in a phone interview with The Malibu Times, “they have so much experience in picking up trash. They promised to provide us with photographs of violations at the city’s 80 trash sites, and to replace damaged lids.” 

Michael Smith, director of operations for Waste Management Ventura/Santa Barbara, confirmed in a phone interview that he provided input to George. 

“We suggested it wasn’t in our best interest to have locking lids on every container,” he said. “Because of employee turnover, not everyone in the shopping center would have a key or combination to the lock, and then they’d call us when they couldn’t get in.” 

Smith said he informed drivers that lids must be closed when they leave, even if lids were open when they arrived for trash pick-up.

When George was asked why he didn’t write up a policy of locking and tight-fitting lids—one that would closely mirror the council members’ suggestions—he said it’s because that policy would not work. 

“Locking dumpsters doesn’t solve the problem, because then people will just throw trash on top of and next to the dumpster,” he said. He also claimed rodents will just chew right through the lids.

George’s version of the policy includes handing out tickets with fines of $100, $200 or $500 for dumpster violations, and a system of warnings, corrections and tracking. 

He said both the original requested policy and his policy will be presented to City Council on June 24. 

When Wagner was asked in a phone interview what he thought of staff’s recommendation, Wagner said, “It’s disturbing that he came back with an alteration that’s more favorable to the trash companies. As well as these stalling tactics—it’s like sending something off to staff Siberia.”

Wagner said some restaurants in Malibu are doing a superlative job of keeping dumpster areas clean, including Tramonto, V’s, Duke’s and McDonald’s. Others are constant violators.