Boston 311 Trash reports by Zip Code

Boston 311 Trash reports by Zip Code

With the City waste collection contract up for renewal, one of the suggested topics for Monday night's Neighborhood Council meeting is ..."Trash".

I wrote about the history and various permutations of garbage collection the North End last year. We've tweaked days of the week, what's picked up, and time of day. I'm not sure we can improve the situation much by continuing to adjusting those variable further. But if you have ideas or would like to discuss, absolutely come by the Nazzaro tomorrow at 7.

Ultimately, I don't think door-to-door curbside trash pickup works well once you pass a certain population density threshold. But I wondered if there was any objective way to show this.

After a suggestion from a friend, I decided to look into the number of reports the city receives about trash. Mostly, I wanted to see if the more dense neighborhoods were outliers in the number of reports received.

Spoiler alert: Yes (interactive map)

Boston 311 Trash Complaints per 1,000 residents of each zipcode

The North End's 02113 had a whopping 149 reports about trash per 1,000 residents in 2022 (1,002 reports in total). That's more than one report for every seven people in the zip code. West End / Beacon Hill's 02114 is the only other zip that came close with 129 reports per 1,000 residents.

When we look at the number of reports by area, 02113 is even more of an outlier with 15.5 reports per acre of land. That's more than double the number of the closest runner up (which is again 02114 with 6 per acre).

311 Trash complaints by area


Data from 2022
ZipCountPer 1,000 resPer acre

I think this shows that the efficacy door-to-door curbside pickup diminishes as population density increases. Or at least satisfaction decreases.

This is beyond what is reasonably possible in the short term, but I'll advocate again for changing the system. We need receptacles for household trash. Space isn't an issue. Prioritization might be.

What about the 6am start time?

An argument I hear a lot is that due to the 6am start time, residents are forced to put their trash out the night before. The argument goes: if we moved the start time back to 7am, people would be able to put their trash out the morning of - significantly reducing the amount of time trash is on the street.

There are two problems with this argument:

  1. The vast majority of people will put their trash out the night before regardless
  2. The majority of trash in the North End is picked up well past 7am, even with a 6am start time

We can actually test the efficacy of moving the start time - because the North End did just that in 2019.

What were the results? Well, it's a little hard to tell because shortly after the change we all went into lockdown due to the pandemic and the data gets a little messy. But if we look at the 2022 - 2023 data from 02113, reports are down from the 2017 - 2019 average. This isn't true for 02114 - which saw no change in the pickup time and has had more reports in 2022 - 2023 than they did pre-pandemic in 2017 - 2019.

02114 has seen 311 reports surge past pre-pandemic levels in 2022-2023. 02113 remains well below. The difference: 02113 starts pickup earlier and does so on Mondays and Thursdays.

The other change that the North End made in 2019 was to move one of the collection days from Friday to Thursday. In my opinion, this had the largest net positive effect because Public Works can actually respond to 311 requests on Friday from problems during Thursday's pickup. Previously, we had to wait until Monday for reports to be actioned since PWD doesn't work (full crew) on weekends.

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