CommUniverCity volunteers canvass neighborhoods around campus to talk with residents about issues of illegal dumping and to offer alternative resources. (Photo by: Neal Waters, ’07 Geography, ’16 MS Mass Communications)
Keep America Beautiful, a national nonprofit organization, recognized these efforts by the City of San Jose’s Environmental Services Department and CommUniverCity to decrease blight on city streets and in open areas as a result of comprehensive, innovative and successful efforts to reduce illegal dumping. They awarded the City of San José with its 2016 National Community Improvement award for Litter Prevention. Established in 1953, Keep America Beautiful provides the expertise, programs, and resources to help people end littering, improve recycling, and beautify America’s communities.
Along with a broad public education campaign, partnerships with neighborhood associations, CommUniverCity (an innovative partnership between the City of San José, San José State University, and downtown neighborhoods that works with low-income communities), and the Behavioural Insights Team through Bloomberg Philanthropies’ What Works Cities initiative have helped assess the problem, identify solutions and maximize outreach.
“This is a tremendous honor by a national organization that underscores our collaborative approach to a complex issue,” said Kerrie Romanow, director of the San José Environmental Services Department, which leads the program. “Because of our strong internal and community partnerships, we’re seeing visible results that are making our community cleaner and greener and engaging our residents to strengthen our neighborhoods.”
As in many large cities, illegal dumping has been a growing problem in San Jose. A 2015 assessment revealed a 50 percent increase in illegal dumping incidents on public property within the last three years.
In response, a citywide task force led by ESD developed a comprehensive program focused on prevention, cleanup, education, and community engagement to provide practical and convenient alternatives to reduce illegal dumping. In addition, it included a coordinated effort to remove items such as abandoned mattresses, furniture, and trash from streets and waterways.
“Our program includes free curbside pickup of large items like furniture and appliances, regular cleanup routes in areas with a high incidence of illegal dumping, and a new full-time illegal dumping rapid response team to address resident cleanup requests,” said Romanow.
Since July 2016, the city’s illegal dumping rapid response team has removed more than 320 tons of dumped materials and trash, including 1,193 mattresses and 620 shopping carts, from San José streets and public areas.
Keep America Beautiful’s National Awards program recognizes the best of the best among their network of community-based affiliates, leading corporate partners, and individual volunteers across the country who have committed to delivering cleaner, greener, and more beautiful communities.
“It’s my privilege to recognize the City of San José for such valuable, mission-based work that helps their community be more socially connected, environmentally healthy, and economically sound,” said Becky Lyons, chief operating officer of Keep America Beautiful.