Many probably consider it an innocuous practice; instead of finding a nearby trash can, tossing garbage into a sewer catch basin. But Bayonne Municipal Utilities Authority Executive Director Tim Boyle says that this practice repeated time and again can have dire effects for the city.
Boyle is asking for the help of Bayonne residents, workers, and visitors to refrain from the practice, and homeowners to help with the cleanup of these areas.
Boyle explained that these basins collect the flow of rainwater and melted snow and ice and carry the water out to Newark Bay, the Kill Van Kull, and Upper New York Harbor.
Inside the basins are netting chambers which are designed to catch items swept into them by the weather, with individual nets collecting things three eighths of an inch or greater in size.
“There are tremendous amounts of litter and other things that find their way into the catch basins,” Boyle said.
Each year, thousands of pounds of trash are plunged into the system, making trash collection onerous and compromising the system.
While the littering and its resulting buildup varies throughout the city, the fall is particularly concerning because of leaves caught in the basins.
But the city is most concerned about the unnecessary non-biodegradable items that find their way into them.
“Plastic bottles, can lids, candy containers, this is the stuff that makes up the content of the sewer,” Boyle said. “Potato chip bags, coffee containers, all other types of litter. Fast food wrappings, newspaper flyers, coupons, those kinds of things all find their way into the system.”
Sometimes much larger items are found, including sneakers, bicycle and car tires, tree limbs, and timber.
“One thing I heard several workers talk about was the time they found most of a tree,” Boyle said. “It was like someone was doing backyard maintenance and didn’t’ know what to do with it. Unfortunately lots of little bags filled with dog poop are found too,” Boyle said.
But most of the garbage discarded, like the plastic bags, wrappers, and containers are not biodegradable and will never dissolve, so the litter must be manually cleaned out.
Besides stopping the flow of water to their natural outflow areas, the backups can have an immediate impact on city streets.
“If these catch basins don’t work, they cause a backup on the corner,” Boyle said. “If there’s a backup on the corner, maybe someone’s basement floods.”
The city tries to keep the catch basins and the rest of the drainage system clear.
“We’re asking any residents or homeowners to help out.” – Tim Boyle
“It’s United Water’s responsibility, but the routine has always been a shared relationship,” Boyle said. “The Department of Environmental Protection has helped the MUA with that chore. Generously, the DPW still helps with the clearing of this stuff.”
The city is calling on residents to get involved
“We could use help from the constituency, we could use the help of homeowners if there is a catch basin near them,” Boyle said.
Boyle likened the practice to what homeowners do following snowstorms, shoveling and keeping the path along curbs open for pedestrians.
In just the last five years, the solid waste collected from the system has more than doubled in weight, according to Boyle.
“Homeowners, renters, our school system; teachers, students and parents, business owners, in fact everyone in this town, should be alarmed by this number,” he said. “As a community, we need to do a better job of dealing with our personal trash.”
Boyle said that while the city is responsible for the cleanup, in urban areas like Bayonne it’s not possible to have all the basins free of trash all the time.
“The dog poop, that thing is a nightmare for us. The idea of a sewer disposal of this instead of taking it home and putting it properly into the waste stream is crippling our system,” Boyle said. “People walking two or three dogs a day, six or eight in the neighborhood; in no time at all there’s a catch basin that’s not working anymore.”
Improper disposal of animal waste raises quality-of-life and legal issues. Those caught can face a “pretty high fine,” Boyle said.
Joseph Passantino may be reached at JoePass@hudsonreporter.com.