Outdoor dumpster overflow becomes a campus issue

The Village and the College Park Apartments (CPAs) are the only Ramapo residence halls with outdoor dumpsters. Waste Management (WM), Bergen County’s contracted removal service, empties the dumpsters on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

Despite the frequency of pick-up, the average state of most dumpsters is overflowing. Students have brought their complaints to Kristina Hollosi, a senator-at-large and the Student Government Association’s liaison to Facilities. Hollosi is also a Village resident.

“That’s crazy to me,” she said. “How can all of the trash bins… be filled in one or two days?”

Students are forced to adapt. “When it’s too packed, I’ll wait because I feel bad leaving my trash on the floor,” said sophomore Hope Mauro, a CPA resident. “Or I go to find the one on the other side and hope it’s not as packed.”

Risking packed garbage bags leaking onto her residence’s floor is seen as a lesser evil to Mauro than leaving them outside the dumpster and attracting wildlife. Margaret Everett, the office clerk for Bergen County Parks, confirmed improperly guarded trash can attract wildlife onto the campus.

“We have a lot of forested areas, so they’re naturally gonna be in those places. I’m sure garbage has a lot to do with it if you have dumpsters that aren’t sealed.”

Unlike the parks, Ramapo does not use dumpsters with locks. However, hungry wildlife may be one of Facilities’ less pressing concerns regarding garbage.

Nicole Jones, supervisor of Building Services within the office of Facilities Management, reported WM charges a $175 fee for each overfilled dumpster and a $26 fee for each contaminated recycling container.

“On average, at least half of the recycling and trash containers are either overfilled or contaminated,” she said.

An Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request to view the state contract with WM and the invoices issued to Facilities during the fall 2022 semester concluded that from Sept. 1 to Oct. 20, Facilities paid $8,651.07 in fees — about $1,000 each week.

To reduce incurred fees, Facilities staff say they attempt to move garbage bags from overfilled dumpsters to ones with room or store extra bags in their own trucks while the dumpsters await pick-up. Facilities has also posted rules for single-stream recycling online.

To further encourage recycling, Facilities said they plans on distributing a map that indicates the locations of recycling containers. However, they cannot order students to use it.

When asked if she would follow the map, Mauro said, “Probably not. If it’s close to here, then yes. But if it’s all the way on the other side of the CPAs, no. It’s about convenience. If they had a recycling bin next to every trash bin, maybe.”

Mauro pointed to the dumpster closest to her dorm. The squat brick shed beside it appears off-limits to students, but the rusty lock and chain only serve to prevent the gate door from swinging open into the parking lot. Inside is a recycling container. These sheds’ foreboding appearances may intimidate students and could cause confusion.

The recycling containers are emptied once a week, one-third as often as the general dumpsters. According to the state contract, WM charges $76.01 to empty a three cubic yard dumpster, the kind Ramapo uses, three times a week. The price jumps to $101.36 for four times a week and $126.69 for five times a week.

“We’re picking it up pretty frequently, to reduce trash. You know, try to get people to reduce as much trash,” Jones said. She acknowledged the suggestion was easier said than done. “I’m not sure how that’s going to happen. We live in that kind of disposable time right now.”

Aside from the higher cost, Facilities is deterred from increasing the frequency of pick-up because it would increase the amount of time the dumpsters are missing, they said. On collection days, the dumpsters must be moved to the pick-up site by 7 a.m., as WM can come at any time from then until 6 p.m. As soon as staff notice the dumpsters have been emptied, they return them to their proper spaces as quickly as possible, but the system frequently results in the containers’ absence for hours.

Junior Maryn Anderson, a Village resident, recounted issues with the unclear window. “Maybe [Facilities could] send out an email listing the trash schedule so we know when to expect the dumpsters to not be there.”

Anderson is not alone in her confusion. Although Jones claimed “each [residence] hall office knows when [the dumpsters] get picked up,” neither the Village nor the CPAs had the schedule on file when The Ramapo News investigated.

Another potential solution is adding dumpsters. Facilities said they have broached the idea with WM, but issues stem from legal restrictions on how and where dumpsters can be placed and the state’s application process for requesting more.

Until then, Hollosi hopes the sight of the piles of garbage bags will increase conversations about systemic waste management issues.

“When you take out the trash, it doesn’t go away,” she said, even though it disappears from view within a day. When the system experiences issues and trash piles up, “then you think… ‘How long is this going to work? How is that sustainable?’”



Photo by Emily Melvin.