Will new trash bins bring heaps of trouble?

NEWPORT BEACH — For decades, when surfers broke their boards, they would lay them to rest in one of the city's metal beach Dumpsters with fins protruding like a tombstone — a symbol of their hard-charging ways and the ocean's ultimate force.

Come Monday, surfers will have one less way to show off just how gnarly they are.

Newport Beach plans to replace its beach bins with new covered plastic containers. A private company will provide and empty them, and city officials say they'll save money in the long run.

While officials are happy with the contractor's performance during a pilot program, some residents are jarred by the change in the visual landscape and worry that lazy beach visitors won't lift their lids.

"The program has been well received, and the contractor, Rainbow Disposal, is doing a great job," Mark Harmon, Newport's director of operations, wrote in an e-mail.

Newport has been testing the new receptacles between the Newport Pier and the Santa Ana River Jetties since January, and earlier this month it announced that the pilot program was successful and that the other beaches would get the bins April 4.

The new 165-gallon containers look like oversized residential trash cans with lids on a hinge. In place of the blue municipal trucks that lift the Dumpsters from the front, Rainbow's tan trash trucks will use an automatic arm to grasp the bins from the side and empty them overhead.

Two city trucks designed specifically to lift the metal Dumpsters were built in the 1980s and had been in disrepair, said Mike Pisani, deputy director of operations.

The city retired one of them and was considering replacing it at a cost of $300,000, but instead decided to try an outside company's service.

"It's a task that we don't have to worry about staffing," Pisani said, adding that the truck drivers and other employees can now focus on their other duties. "It's just not really a core service that the city needs to provide."

But Newport did provide the open metal Dumpsters for many years, and beachgoers became used to seeing them — and arranging their towels to avoid downwind whiffs emanating from them. They were painted blue like the trucks and other Newport municipal vehicles until recently, when the city painted them the color of the sand.

"You identify with them," said Nicolai Glazer, who surfs near 54th Street in upper West Newport. "They were just fine."

Tom Cozad, a surf photographer who operates newportsurfshots.com, is worried some tourists already indifferent to litter may be less likely to toss trash into the bins if they have to raise the lid.

"The tell-tale sign will be in the summertime when you, I envision, get a ring of trash around the can … when people don't bother going over there and lifting up that dirty, gross lid," he said.

Cozad also said his two kids, ages 9 and 11, are too short to reach the top of the container to lift the lid.

But Pisani thought that their concerns were overblown and that people would toss trash in them just like they do their home trash bins. He also said some residents have complimented the lids.

"Really, people like them because they have the lids for the birds," he said, referring to seagulls that used to swoop into the open Dumpsters and pick open bags full of food scraps. "By and large it's also going to cut down on the paper flying around."

One flaw that the city has identified is that high winds tend to knock over the new bins, causing the contents to spill out.

Pisani said Rainbow would try to place weights in the bottom of them to solve that issue.

Huntington City Beach and Huntington State Beach already contract with Rainbow for a similar service. Park Superintendant Joe Milligan said he was happy with the bins and the automated trucks. Before, park employees would empty bins manually and some filed workers compensation claims after lifting cans heavy with sand.

"It has been a very successful and relatively painless transition," Milligan said, adding that the state has realized some cost savings from the outsourcing.

In Newport, environmentalists from the Surfrider Foundation's Newport Beach chapter said they haven't noticed much difference with litter on the beaches with the new bins.

But Darrel Ferguson, who organizes cleanups for the group, said he wished the city had consulted the chapter before instituting the plan so he could give some ideas about the best trash bin design.

"There's something about litter," he said. "There's just some gut thing about it."

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