‘A full garbage bag next to the waste container: why, why?’

You shouldn’t want to know what inspires that neighbor, says Pano. Then you get excited about a pile of laminate with every waste bin. “Why doesn’t someone call garbage? Collection costs nothing. And why is a full garbage bag next to the waste container? And that pile of empty boxes next to the paper bin. Why? Why?”

Epifanio Obispo Martina (43), nickname ‘Pano’, has long stopped wondering. Concentrated and smooth, he drives his inspection route through the Rotterdam district of Bloemhof. From waste container to waste container. If there is something next to it, he gets out and takes a picture of the waste with his tablet. Pano takes a lot of pictures.

Photos? Yes, photos. Epifanio Obispo Martina is part of the NietRNaast team. With that team, the municipality of Rotterdam started a battle with the ‘next placer’. Because waste that is not put in but next to the waste container is one of the biggest annoyances of Rotterdammers, according to quality of life surveys. And there are more negative consequences, according to the municipality. A dirty street feels less safe than a clean one. The waste attracts vermin. And if there is already something lying around, people are more likely to add some rubbish.

Maintaining cleaners

The board of Rotterdam wants a cleaner city. This intention is already stated in the first chapter of the coalition agreement presented last summer: next-placed residents are dealt with more harshly with high fines. Cleaners are trained as enforcers, and they can then immediately issue a fine for placing them next door. And there will be public checks.

There are now three enforcing cleaners. That’s a test. If all goes well, twenty cleaners will be trained as enforcers next year. Plainclothes inspectors who hand out fines are not yet there. Higher fines. And the NietRNaast team, which reduces incorrectly presented waste next to the containers.

That team consists of enforcers, cleaners and drivers who can work together better because they can follow each other in an app. If an enforcer finds dirt somewhere, he or she will check whether an address can be found. It is then cleaned up as quickly as possible by the cleaners, called ‘runners’. If it is reported that an underground container is full, it will be emptied more quickly.

Those runners start early in the morning at 6.15 am in the head office of Schone Stad (formerly the Roteb) in Zuid. Tables are arranged in a circle, men in bright orange trousers have their sturdy hands clasped around plastic coffee cups. The work distributor checks whether everyone is there: Sijmor, Limon, Hassan, Ahmed, Pieter. He looks up for a moment. Haddou, Ramazan, Elizabeth… There are twenty men and one woman. Last sip of coffee, everyone puts on the bright orange jacket, grabs a tablet from the holder and heads for the smaller garbage trucks in the parking lot. You can get in with four people, in the back is an open cargo box.

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Photo Pepijn Kouwenberg

An old vacuum cleaner

On their tablet they see reports from civilians, supplemented with reports from other NotRNaast team members. If there are no reports (yet), the runners drive a round past all the containers in their neighbourhood. If there is waste next to it, they take a photo with their tablet, after which it becomes visible in the app.

Then they throw everything that fits in the waste container in it. Larger objects go in the back of the bin – remarkably often these are cardboard boxes from which the address labels have been torn off. Once people have been fined via an address label, they make sure that they can no longer be traced. Furthermore, there is everything you can think of; discarded children’s toys, an old vacuum cleaner, a stool without a leg, a kitchen cupboard. Even larger objects, bulky waste, such as sofas and mattresses, are later picked up by a ‘press car’.

The work distributor is at the office and watches the app on his computer. He can prioritize urgent messages. ‘Hotspots’, places where waste is often dumped, are visited more often. This approach with inspectors, runners and garbage collectors – ‘a little train’ in cleaning jargon – is now being used throughout Rotterdam after a trial in a few districts.

The new approach works quite well, says Antonio Poeketie (22), Pano’s colleague. In the sense that waste is cleaned up sooner. “It is not the case that residents will offer their garbage more neatly or place it next to them less often.”

Poeketie drives on the Dordtselaan in the Feijenoord district. Stops, his inspection car parks smoothly on the edge of the sidewalk, next to a container. “Before I did this job, I was not an artist in driving.” He likes order and neatness, he says. At the same time, professional deformation is lurking: “Since I’ve been doing this job, I’ve looked in every trash can. Even when I’m in Haarlem or something.”

Photo Pepijn Kouwenberg

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