Sometimes the mattresses are disconcerting.
Four or five of them may come into sight suddenly, lying on a sliver of sidewalk, spilling into the street, during a drive up a narrow hill in a congested neighborhood.
Hit the brakes, or hit the mattresses.
They are more likely to appear around the first of the month, when renters in Stamford – a city of renters – move out of their apartments.
The most recent Census data offers a sense of the degree of mobility in the Stamford population. The data shows that occupancy of the city’s nearly 51,000 housing units is about evenly split between owners and renters.
So there are about 25,500 tenant households.
According to ResidentRated, a renter satisfaction survey, the average length of stay for a tenant in an apartment building in the U.S. is two years and three months.
If that’s true, there’s a lot of moving going on in Stamford. And, on moving day, some things land in the street.
The pandemic made things worse.
When COVID hit in the winter of 2020, people were confined to their homes, for work and for play. They not only generated more household garbage, they cleaned out closets and basements, and remodeled rooms to create home offices, generating more than the usual waste.
Stamford’s sanitation supervisor, Dan Colleluri, reported early in the pandemic that household garbage collection was 8 percent more than the previous year, and recycling was 20 percent more.
When the weather warmed up and people still could not go to restaurants, bars, ball games, theaters and concerts, they went outside. They walked, hiked, picnicked, and held socially distanced get-togethers on neighborhood streets.
While that was happening, there were fewer sanitation workers on the job because they were sick or quarantined, slowing the collection of trash, which piled up at curbs, according to the Solid Waste Association of North America, based in Silver Spring, MD.
Cities across the country reported new peaks in littering and illegal dumping.
“Some norms of behavior have been broken a little; there’s more bad driving and more roadway littering,” said David Biderman, executive director of the association. “Not everyone is adhering to the same rules that they were before the pandemic.”
Research by Keep America Beautiful, a nonprofit litter-prevention organization headquartered in Stamford, shows that, before the pandemic, littering was down.
Randy Hartmann, a senior director at Keep America Beautiful, said a 2009 study and a follow-up in 2020 showed a 54 percent decrease in roadside litter nationwide during that decade.
The data does not distinguish between littering and illegal dumping, Hartmann said.
“A gum wrapper and a mattress each count as one piece of litter,” Hartmann said.
The data did reveal things about thoughts and behavior.
“It showed that nine out of 10 Americans feel litter is an issue in their state. It showed that, per capita, states (like Connecticut) that put deposits on bottles and cans have half as much litter on the ground as states that don’t have deposits,” Hartmann said. “A clean community stays clean. A litter community attracts litter and potential illegal dumping – it’s like it’s accepted, no one cares, so people do it.”
Stamford sends a mixed message. The city doesn’t allow residents to place bulky waste at the curb for pickup, but if someone dumps illegally and the highway department gets a complaint, a crew will be sent out to remove it.
There is no ordinance on the books “that requires the city to fine residents when an illegally dumped item is left in front of a house or apartment building,” Lauren Meyer, spokeswoman for Mayor Caroline Simmons, said in an email.
The highway department responds daily to requests to clean up illegal dumping, Meyer said.
“We have seen an uptick in the number of illegal dumping requests over the last two and a half months,” she said. “The director of operations is taking on this issue to revamp the city’s approach to illegal dumping.”
The city needs a new approach, said city Rep. Jeff Stella, chairman of the Board of Representatives’ Public Safety & Health Committee.
“It’s a problem that’s constant. It just doesn’t go away,” Stella said. “We have to do a better job of going after people who do this.”
The city has put up cameras on some streets where illegal dumping is a repeated problem, but they don’t always catch a face or a license plate number and lead to an arrest, Stella said.
The city most likely needs more citation officers to investigate piles of junk for clues, and to knock on the doors of houses or buildings where dumping occurs, Stella said.
“I think there are repeated problems with apartments that are off the books, where no one should be living in the first place,” Stella said. “We need to start thinking outside the box, because we are not solving this problem. Every time we send a truck out to pick this stuff up, the taxpayer pays.”