A dumped mattress in the Mission. It will be up to a resident to report this large item using the 311 app, and then for Recology to send out a crew to pick up and dispose of the bulky-item. Photo by Clara-Sophia Daly.

Angel Mayorga, a 63-year-old resident who has lived in the Mission his whole life, recently watched a “young fellow” pull up in a U-Haul and dump three to four pieces of furniture “close to my place,” he wrote in outrage.  

So, yes, he explains, he has “noticed an increase in plain old garbage and furniture on the streets dumped anywhere.” 

Turns out, he’s right. When walking the streets of San Francisco, old office chairs, broken Ikea shelves, and dirty mattresses are as common as Honda Civics. 

Indeed, complaints of garbage and dumping in the Mission over the past six months have increased by 21 percent, to an average of 2,988 a month, according to 311 data. And most of those complaints involve bulky items, similar to the ones dumped in front of Mayorga’s place near 16th and Albion streets.  

Residents who have large items to discard can schedule a curbside bulky item recycling pickup at no additional cost two times per year through Recology. The company now under scrutiny for alleged bribery said that it takes 10 days, on average, to get an appointment, but that seems to be rare. On Jan. 12, 2021, when one of Mission Local’s editors made an appointment, the earliest pickup was January 30. On Jan. 19, the next available appointment was Feb. 15. 

Others said that getting an appointment takes weeks, if not more than a month, according to residents. 

So, even in normal times, if a resident is moving, or wants to get rid of something quickly, they’re liable to dump it on a side street. 

Robert Reed, a spokesman for Recology, says that, pre-pandemic, Recology had 22 trucks and 22 drivers collecting abandoned waste and assigned to the Bulky Item Recycling program. 

Reed said they had noticed an increase in requests during the pandemic, and hired four more drivers. That, he said, increased “bulky-item collection capacity by 60 percent.”

In effect, that allowed Recology to add four new Bulky Item Recycling Program routes (moving from 10 to 14 total routes) and increasing service to include Saturday collection, Reed said. 

But it seems to not be enough.  And, when the furniture ends up on the sidewalk and residents like Mayorga file a 311 complaint, it is up to the Department of Public Works to send 311 bulky-item pickup requests to Recology, and Recology to service public trash cans and remove large furniture items for residents who have made an appointment.

Rachel Gordon of San Francisco Public Works acknowledged that residents may be reluctant to wait the 10 days or more for Recology to make a pickup. 

So, Gordon says, Public Works is “working with [Recology] on a pilot program to address bulky item pickup”  by prioritizing people who make appointments. 

The number of pickup appointments made and total tons collected attest to  the popularity of the Bulky Item Recycling Program.

The number of pickup appointments made has tripled in 10 years, from 31,163 in 2011 to 90,108 for the first 11 months of 2020. Total tons collected through the program also more than doubled in 10 years, from 4,386 in 2011 to 9,156 for the first 11 months of 2020.

And, between 2019 and 2020, bulky-item recycling requests increased by 47 percent, according to Reed. 

So, too, have the complaints. Over the past six months, complaints in the Mission have increased by 514, according to 311 data. Notably, requests for the removal of large bulky items, such as furniture, have increased to an average of 1,428 over the past six months, up from 900 for the six months previous, or a 59-percent increase. 

An increase in residents moving out of the city has not helped an enduring dumping issue. 

Some 89,000 households have moved out of the city since the pandemic began in mid-March, according to the U.S. Postal Service data, so the hike in large items left behind on the sidewalk is a sign of the times. But, even pre-pandemic days, disposing of bulky items can take a significant amount of time. It is also unclear exactly how many people have moved to San Francisco during this time. 

Mayorga said it should not be up to residents to constantly notify 311 of trash and large items on the street.

Gordon from DPW said that they try to do outreach to folks and get them to understand that it is important to do their part to keep the city clean. 

“People decide they would rather have the convenience to throw it on the street” instead of properly disposing of things, Gordon said.

Paul Monge, a legislative aide to Supervisor Hillary Ronen, agreed that dumping was up. 

“The high frequency of movement — with people breaking their leases to move to more affordable housing or leaving the city — has meant an increase in garbage on the streets and dumping of used furniture,” said Monge. 

Ticketing has been difficult, if not impossible. 

“In a city of our size, with the number of people that are there, enforcement is typically complaint-driven, because of the quantity of issues that need to be responded to. Scanning the streets of things to clean is hard, so responses of departments are driven by complaints,” continued Monge. 

Goodwill, which normally accepts donations of furniture and even will pick up used furniture, is not currently taking donations at most of its donation locations, with the exception of 121 Wisconsin St. and 3605 Buchanan St., as of Jan. 20.

This is also a likely factor in the increase of large items visible on San Francisco streets.

So, for now, other than the pilot program between Recology and DPW, expect to see more furniture on the street. No one seems to have any plans to prevent that. 

“There is room for improvement, and we try to respond and step up and do more things as demand has increased.” said Reed, who added that Recology was trying to do more to make residents aware of their pickup program. But awareness appears to be less of an issue than patience in waiting for Recology to swing by.

Clara-Sophia Daly

Clara-Sophia Daly is a multimedia storyteller and reporter who has worked both in print and audio. A graduate of Skidmore College where she studied International Affairs and Media/Film studies, she enjoys...

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48 Comments

  1. There are piles of garbage everywhere. It doesn’t have to be like this. What compels some residents of the Mission to trash their neighborhood in this way?

    1. Sure, I’ll take a stab at this.

      Because they are moving out of the city, perhaps at short notice or under distressed situations due to the financial impact of COVID.

      They don’t the fund to pay for private removal, don’t have a car or the means to haul junk to the city dump (which is also open under limited hours now due to COVID) and if they are moving completely out of the city probably don’t have much collective responsibility for ‘their neighborhood’ seeing as they are leaving.

    2. People are selfish in this new “all about me “ times that we seem to be living in. People can act as though they care about others but are really more concerned with how others see them. It’s the Instagram affect, each moment in life is just a snapshot to most of the younger generation. They do not stop and think about their actions, but India’s just do what they want, including leaving things like mattresses and old furniture on the streets. It was something they needed, but now they don’t, so out the door it goes, doesn’t matter what becomes of it, as long as they don’t have to deal with it.

  2. would be great if Recology had an option to drop off 2 times per year. It would save the city money and curb illegal dumping.

  3. My experience with Goodwill a couple years ago, when I was trying to donate upholstered furniture, is that they refused it. Community thrift took one piece, refused two. Some people don’t want their furniture going to a landfill, so they hope someone can use it and will pick it up from the sidewalk. When we call Recology, we assume it ends up in the trash, not reused.

    1. So true! Goodwill is pretty picky when scheduling a pick up & you don’t want your family’s antiques going to the trash when you know that somebody can use it, I always see people picking up a chair or a table right after somebody puts it outside! It’s direct re-using.

    2. Mary, I’m not sure it’s the case that everything that goes to the dump ends up in a landfill. The last time I was there (it’s been a few years), workers were going through the stuff coming in and separating out items (mostly furniture) that were in good condition. I remember that visit vividly, because one of the items was a coffin. I’m not sure how you would go about repurposing a (presumably) unused coffin, but the workers separated it out, anyway.

  4. I am not sure what recology did to mission local but they appear to be seeking ways to make them look bad… if there is one thing in this city that works, it’s garbage collection. seems like their ire could be directed elsewhere?

    1. There is no ire toward Recology, but we are trying to understand why picking up dumped furniture takes so long. Maybe even more routes are needed? Or maybe there are other solutions. Few residents are patient enough to wait 10 days – and mostly it is two weeks to a month.

      1. Hi Lydia,

        Thanks for your response. I would refer you to other municipalities like Oakland, who has a far less robust bulky-item recycling program and where abandoned waste is an utter disaster (third-world countries look better). In Oakland, you can’t even schedule it online, so… who knows when you’d get that service. San Jose also doesn’t have an online scheduling service either… so what’s your barometer for success? Regarding SJ, I don’t know how their abandoned waste program works because I don’t go there often. Ultimately, I don’t think the problem is Recology, or the city for that matter. if you can’t plan 10 days at a time, you’ve got bigger problems.

        As for your comment about their being “no ire” towards Recology, I would question whether you have written more about any other topic with the exception of covid over the past year?
        I do appreciate mission local, and I have a membership and subscribed to joe’s text message service. I just think some of your coverage of our hard working essential workers has been misdirected.
        Full Disclosure: I have a friend who is a garbage collector for Recology. He loves the company and works hard. Frankly, this negativity towards company where he is an owner and teamster, pisses him off and I don’t disagree. That said, I respect your organization and just want to express my perspective. I also appreciate your response.

        1. Our apologies. The article does not mean to vamp on any of Recology’s workers – it makes clear they have plenty to do. It does, however, suggest that maybe Recology or DPW needs to hire more workers to keep up with the dumping. Thank you for reading us – and subscribing. Readers raise the issue of dumping and trash a lot and I actually don’t think we have written about it in quite some time, but I will take a look. We wanted to not only raise the issue that there is more dumping – the fault of residents impatient with Recology’s sign up system, but also to explore the response. Again, it is not intended to place any blame on Recology’s workers as they too must feel overwhelmed.

          1. Lydia,

            I sincerely appreciate the dialogue and your responsiveness. I do think you should look into who this system works in other places (Oakland and San Jose). I also think you should talk to the teamsters about their relationship with Recology versus other companies in the industry. I don’ think the problem is with the service, it’s with the behavior of our residents. I’ve never illegally dumped and i’ve lived here my entire life. The implication of this article is that if the wait is more than 10 days, it become acceptable? I don’t buy that logic. Again, look into other bay area cities, and i think you’d you be impressed with San Francisco. We aren’t living in positive times, but let’s look for a little good in the hard work our garbage collectors perform. Let’s also point the blame at the people that aren’t doing the right thing.

            thanks again.

          2. Hey, this entire exchange was a breath of fresh air to read in a comment section. People trying to explain themselves and listen to each other? Makes it actually worth it to read comments. Thanks to BigFrisco for speaking up for workers – it’s been such a tough year and we all feel it – and to Mission Local for pushing for our city to do better. Both of these make me remember why I’m proud to live in the Bay.

        2. I think the article has a very good point. Not to say faults on whoever is picking things up, but the services we are getting for all the taxes we paid.

          Not specifically saying downtown area, as I lived in other areas of the bay (burlingame/palo alto/ fremont) but
          1. most renting an apartment does not know at all they can schedule service, maybe they can’t. no one gives them this information
          2. it cost so much to throw away bulk items when this service is not used, personally spent 100 bucks to have my mattress disposed (just the mattress). most people don’t have a truck to take it to the junk yard. renting a uhaul would be 50+ as well, plus the recyle fee of 20 for mattress.
          3. Why would the City allocate only one company to deal with this? The article is pointing out that there is a garbage issue and the government should analyze what tools are given to the public and how everyone is using them. Maybe people just didn’t know about it, so the focus would be how to let people know that this free service exists. or introduce another source of pickup or drop off if 1 isn’t sufficient.

          I appreciate all the work everyone putting out there in mist of the pandemic, risking their lives. But I feel like we are running into a thinking that hey, other places take 3 months, so we should be satisfied with 10 days. Instead of, this is taking 10 days and we still have junks everywhere, how do we fix this? It is like you buy a headphone for 300 bucks, but it broke in 2 months. Go to the seller and seller says hey, the other guys have headphones broke in 3 days. u lucky to have extra 2 months of use.

          We pay so many taxes and fees and just getting by with bare minimum. Infact, many didn’t even get that minimum and ended up in the streets. Frankly, city and state government are letting us down.

          Hope everyone stays safe and get through this madness.

        3. Hey Big Frisco
          There are many hardworking people at ecology, that I know and truly appreciate. I personally am happy with the service I received over the years. However I do not appreciate an executive bribing a city official, (if true). Being that I’ve known Mohammed Nuru since 1992, sitting on Boards with him, I believe it’s true. I for one am so happy Mission Local is covering and exposing some of the shady dealings at City Hall. The fact that Recology was attempting to rip off every household in the City, is well not cute, and they should be in the doghouse. I also appreciate readers as you who help expand the viewpoints.
          Onnyx

      2. Residents need to respect the neighborhood. Most of the “free” items people leave in front of their buildings is absolute trash and ends up piled outside the drug tents of the mentally ill homeless.

        Paul Monge has the tough job of constantly covering for Ronen’s inability to achieve anything meaningful for her district. It’s just endless excuses from her office.

  5. “ Scanning the streets of things to clean is hard”

    Not when you have Recology trucks driving those very streets nearly every day of the week! Let alone the small army of SFMTA parking enforcers. It’s not hard.

    1. Can’t agree more on parking enforcement army. It had never been more crowded and cruel… I understand there are rules, but a lot of people can’t park their cars at work during the work day anymore…

  6. Articles like this miss a chance to slap residents a little and rather seek to assign sensationalized blame on city services. Residents are at fault. It’s their junk, not Recology’s, not DPW’s, not mine. Why does it take so long? Take it to the dump, it’s your crap. You bought it. I say good riddence to the people who think SF is their dumping ground. Soon you will all be gone and we can get back to the SF I miss. A city of people who respect the history and beauty that makes San Francisco the wonderful city it is.

    1. Well said and right on! When did accountability and responsibility become so rare? That’s the article that should be written. Let’s not point the blame at the people that clean it up, let’s focus on the source of the problem, bad actors.

      1. And yet we PAY REcology to pick that stuff up.

        I’m fairly disgusted with both the company and (some of) its workers. Don’t understand why the drivers can’t seem to put the cans BACK WHERE THEY FIND THEM – instead of IN the street (blocking street sweepers) or in a driveway. ?? Whats wrong with those ppl? My understanding is that their “8 hr day” is only about 3-4 hrs long; and the pay is great (conditions and hours not so much, but … still). No excuse for a sloppy job!

        And the prices are outrageous. They will point to other cities – but that doesn’t mean other places aren’t even MORE outrageous. The little we put out each Week isn’t worth $30 in my book. But I guess we gotta pay for all the publicity and standing around at just about every public event I go to (instead of picking up the damn trash).

        This is a problem that has only gotten worse over the decades.

  7. Let’s talk about Bayview/Hunters Point on every corner block to block there’s garbage and furniture and I personally see DPW trucks rolling around, What’s up with ThatMs

    1. Yes you would think they would they would make random stops, however that is not how it works or possible. The trucks you see are supposedly responding to 311 calls and on a time schedule. If they were to deter from that, they may never get to the call. We have to remember they fill their trucks and then have to go empty then. You have to call 311. If it’s large bulky items they prioritize and expedite. However smaller items and rubbage can take up to three days.

      1. Im in agreement with Finsky. The city has always had issues with trash on the streets, (if you don’t believe me just look at the space between the tires and sidewalk in any area).
        Unfortunately the article also fails to mention that those at fault tend to belong to the uneducated and impoverished demographics AKA the kind of people that are NOT going to read this article for ways to improve/excuse their negligent behavior, much less will they be in this comment section. We cannot rely on citations to stop people from litering, citations are only effective on 1. Those who understand the dynamics of society, and 2. Those who have money to pay.
        Most of the trash around the Bayview area is dumped by homeless who rummage around and leave their abandoned structures everywhere. I understand you are trying to save the city some shame but in reality it cannot support it’s citizens. It can approve of newly renovated sky scrapers but god forbid they focus on its neglected citizens.

        1. AR, If only it were so simple. I can be in the poorest neighborhoods of Mexico City and Chile and they are much cleaner than the Mission despite having a per capita income level that would make it impossible for any in those neighborhoods to live here.

          If trash has always been a problem in SF, I suppose I don’t want to give into the idea that trash is our destiny. This is a city full of clever people and many have already offered some solutions in this thread.

        2. AR may I add more insight and my personal experience.
          I was President of the Bayview merchant association, from 1996-1999. During that period I worked closely with the City. I had opened my first café on Third and Kirkwood and worked very hard on the litter and dumping issues.
          At that time littering was a $75.00 fine, while dumping no matter the quantity was a mere $25.00. A study found 60% of dumping was done by businesses. It was cheaper when on the way to the Sunset Scavenger, which is next to the Bayview, to simply dump along side the road, train tracks or in a lot. Due to our efforts Carole Midgen created legislation raising the fine to $1000.00
          We often place blame on on a certain group of people, however corporations and businesses contribute big time. Disposing of contaminates, hazardous materials and polluting a community, let alone corporations the world at large. That includes gardeners, construction, painting, roofers; other small businesses. When the City started investigating and giving out warnings guess what? Surprise, surprise, the majority caught dumping were people from more affluent neighborhoods and businesses.
          At that time DPW started regular street patrol, and programs were developed to collect dumped materials on a regular basis. You see people (some),are going to dump regardless of how educated or wealthy perhaps just not in their own neighborhood. What is perhaps being blamed on the homeless, was actually dumped by someone else. All this boils down to respect or perhaps disrespect.

  8. Kudos to previous thoughtful responders “10+ days is too long,” “it’s not hard for armies of people already scouring the streets to report dump sites,” “shame on SF residents for illegally dumping,” and “perhaps Recology needs to up its game with more hiring and pickups.”
    I’d also like to poke around at what could perhaps be discussion worthy.
    Perhaps during this mass exodus we could make several adjustments since I suspect there are many issues at play. People moving have lots on their mind and likely err in judgement often. Underestimating how much they can carry, what’s going where, belongs to who, leaving stuff with roommates who reconsider after the fact, tenants breaking leases and leaving stuff, etc. Other sources of illegal dumping can be homeless encampments and junkie RV residents. Perhaps most who dump like the idea that much will get repurposed by others instead of going to landfill if we give them the benefit of the doubt. Maybe dumpers have neither the time, money, patience, knowledge, labor or truck space to “bring their stuff to the dump” (where’s the dump?).
    The reality is that the behavior isn’t likely to change so the response must. True that garbage trucks cover every inch of SF every week. I’m sure they work very hard (not nearly as hard as they used to when they used to have to physically toss cans into the back of collection trucks). Postal workers also cover pretty much every inch of SF on a virtually daily basis. Those are hard jobs that take a lot of time. To increase burdens on those scheduled routes is perhaps unfair. But Perhaps the burden could be minor. Perhaps an app could fill this niche. Perhaps bridging through 311. Perhaps there could be a way to “notify 311” linked through Waze or somesuch that as people, especially these workers already traversing the entire City on a regular basis could just tap the navigational app to send a location beacon to 311 as they spot refuse in need of collection and it could be automatically sent to Recology then it might make reporting more reliable. And just like how Waze allows users to confirm the reports of other users of say “police ahead” with a thumbs up or thumbs down perhaps users could do the same when dumped stuff has been removed for repurposing to keep the list “alive” in real time so Recology doesn’t squander pickup resources.
    Perhaps also the process of requesting large pickup could be even easier. Perhaps in addition to “twice a year large item pickup” there could be an additional “moving” item pickup (maybe allowed once a year) whereby residents moving could easily “tap the app” to notify Recology they’re moving and that they’re going to be leaving a lot of stuff on the curb in addition to their regular collection cans and maybe Recology could just “pick it up.”
    Maybe they’d need special trucks equipped with extra staff to service those requests I don’t know (if so perhaps a small fee/donation could be requested that would not in any way deter like $5 or $20 such that a conscientious person could easily tap $5 through Venmo or something through the Waze 311 portal to offset the mattress and boxspring they didn’t have time to take to the dump or maybe $20 for the entire apartment’s worth of stuff they had to “curb” in order to get their deposit back, point being it should be small enough to encourage donations and offset the additional cost to Recology/The City and not so onerous that it would encourage illegal dumping on someone else’s doorstep). But I do know that illegal dumping is a MAJOR problem in Bayview and that the quality of the stuff is much closer to trash than repurposable. And the stuff needs to be picked up quickly before its torn apart, strewn about and blown around into a full-blown ecological disaster.
    Anyway, final word, I wish that we could emulate Norway and other forward thinking cultures more where they religiously sort and recycle their waste steam and turn their waste into clean heat and electrical energy with highly efficient and carefully regulated clean burning of well sorted refuse. Doing so allows them to reduce their landfill bound waste stream by 99% while sourcing local fuel (trash bound for landfill) into local clean heat and energy. (They scrub out and reuse virtually all of the bad stuff and toxins. The CO2 they create would be released over time in landfills anyway and could also be recovered and reused for many industrial purposes. Just to address a couple kneejerk criticisms.) Here’s one of many articles (abstracts) discussing oxygen enhanced waste to energy incineration technologies that actually results in a carbon negative result i.e. “earth cooling” technology that is currently available. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S036054422030459X

    1. There are some interesting ideas here. I don’t know that it needs a new app, but maybe 311 could have a special pick up for those leaving quickly and an added fee seems fair.

  9. I’m a pedestrian, Muni rider, and drive . I have called 311 many times reporting mountains of trash at Muni bus stops impeding off and on access safely. Trash piled up against USPS boxes. I live on silver Ave between mission street and San Bruno Ave. The hazards daily walking to a neighborhood store or to take Muni is unimaginable. I have asked down to at least post signs not to dump. Who are these folks and why are they so inconsiderate? My conclusion is garages are used for living quarters and on additional garbage containers to meet the needs. Unsanitary streets.

  10. When you see these people dumping garbage you get the license number so they can be responsible for what they do you people don’t see things by looking the other way people look at things they want to see

    1. Paul,

      ‘Mr. Clean’ did indeed bust his arse doing emergency jobs like this.

      But, only for a select clientele.

      Good to see your handle.

      Lydia, you drew a great crowd which is appreciated by ‘lookers-on’ like myself.

      Go Warriors!

      h.

  11. I wish they would post their stuff on Craigslist or Facebook buy nothing groups. It rarely gets a new home when abandoned on the street, but if you post it for free and schedule with sometime, they will come pick it up. Stuff on the sidewalk makes me so sad. Reuse is the way to go, and Craigslist or buy nothing really work.

  12. People should start dumping all of their garbage on the lawn at City Hall. Maybe then the Mayor will get the message about their lack of interest in cleaning up the city.

  13. Have you thought that this domestic detritus might be what happened when people lost their homes and apartments due to the consequences of the pandemic and a government that is not helping them financially? When you’re on the road to nowhere, you don’t take furniture and shelving with you.

  14. We already have a system that works. Put your bulk garbage items on the sidewalk and report it to 311. It is picked up within a day. You pay for it through your taxes.
    Recology will never have same day pickups or appointments.

  15. If you call 311, things like a mattress and other bulky items have to picked up in 1 hour, because they are a safety hazard. When I call in I stress the danger to citizens, and they generally do remove it within the hour. By law that is considered a reasonable amount of time to remedy the problem. If not the City is liable, if an accident occurs or someone were to be injured.
    In the Excelsior they actually had random Recology trucks drive through the neighborhood retrieving bulky items just dump. They also would come through daily cleaning dumping around City garbage disposal units. The problem with that is it merely encouraged more dumping. We had the cans removed and within a week, no more dumping.

  16. After reading this article this morning I tried to go over to the Buchanan location sited in the article. They are not taking furniture due to Covid. I tried calling the other location and could not reach anyone. The Salvation Army on Geary is not taking furniture now either and I could not reach anyone on Valencia either.

  17. I have recently used Recology for a bulky item pickup. I found plenty of time slots available. I think part of the problem is impatient people who don’t plan in advance and think it’s okay to Dump anywhere in our beautiful City.

  18. This is a response for *** : our drivers have always put our trash cans back, in an orderly fashion. So please dont generalize.

    I have even contact Recology to let them know how much we appreciate the workers that service our house.

    I do hope that Recology’s will have to reimburse us, for overcharging us, under Nuru’s watch.

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