Oakland deals with banned curbside televisions

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Rose D'Amico has cared for her small slice of South Oakland in the 40 years she has lived there, regularly sweeping not just the sidewalk in front of her house on Juliet Street but even the street itself.

She's accustomed to the tidal wave of trash that floods her neighborhood's sidewalks during the college student move-in and move-out period every August. But this year, there's a new wrinkle: By state law, the city is no longer allowed to dispose of televisions as trash.

"It's a couple weeks that that TV has been here," Ms. D'Amico said, pointing to an bulky upside-down RCA console in a trash pile a few doors down, marring a view of the Cathedral of Learning in the distance. "They'll be here for the rubbish, but they'll leave that time and time again."

Pennsylvania's Covered Device Recycling Act, which went into effect Jan. 1, banned the curbside collection of old televisions. So while the city will pick up the mattresses, couches, carpets and other unsightly garbage resulting from recent moves on Oakland streets, televisions seem to be remaining there for the foreseeable future.

"We are concerned about it because it could be a public safety issue," said Wanda Wilson, executive director of the Oakland Planning & Development Corporation. "We've all been conscious that this is an issue."

On a drive around South Oakland on Monday afternoon, about a dozen televisions were readily visible sitting on sidewalks. One block of Ward Street had two televisions directly across the street from each other.

"It's kind of hard to miss," said Nick Ike, a 21-year-old Pitt student who moved to South Oakland this month. "The TVs are easy to spot -- they take up a lot of space and they've been sitting around for a while."

Ms. Wilson points out that the television disposal issue is not just an Oakland problem, but an issue statewide. It is more noticeable, however, in an area like Oakland with relatively high rental turnover.

Instead of going into landfills, by law televisions must now be recycled. Earlier this month, Goodwill announced that it would no longer accept donated televisions because it had reached its 1.5 million pound allotment for the year.

Organizations such as Construction Junction in Point Breeze and retailers such as Best Buy still accept televisions. Construction Junction will take any unbroken television for free as long as it is from a residence and not a business.

The OPDC has already begun educating homeowners and tenants about proper disposal of electronics and is working to get a recycling event planned for Oakland early this fall.

But for televisions that are already on the sidewalk, residents such as Ms. D'Amico are at a loss.

"We try to sweep and keep everything clean, but it's not doing anything," she said. "What do we do about it?"

From the university perspective, there's one clear line of responsibility for the television mess.

"Really, it's the responsibility of the landlord if in fact these televisions are being discarded from rental housing," said John Wilds, assistant vice chancellor for community relations at the University of Pittsburgh.

Ms. Wilson points out that television recycling can be difficult -- some people might have trouble lifting and transporting heavy televisions and others might not have access to a vehicle. And many people still aren't educated about the new law.

It's a cumbersome and bureaucratic process to have the city issue citations against landlords with debris on their property, she said.

But ultimately, she agrees that a property owner has the responsibility to keep their sidewalks clean.

"We would really look to the landlords to be keeping a better eye on this," she said. "Somebody has to take responsibility."

neigh_city - state

Anya Sostek: asostek@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1308.


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