Sidewalk dumping is costly blight in San Francisco 

Couches. Mattresses. An old shelf. Lamps. A worn-out recliner. On top of cost, the consequences of sidewalk dumping negatively affect the quality of life, and include needless damage to the beauty and reputation of our neighborhoods in San Francisco.

Traveling around The City, San Franciscans are well-aware of the universal practice of putting out used items onto the sidewalk with the seemingly harmless hope that someone will, in good faith, pick it up and use it. Unfortunately, this is a behavior that leads to a string of unintended consequences and misconceptions about costs that can double for each item dumped.

There is a misconception that if no one picks up your old stuff, there is a planned and budgeted city service that collects the items from sidewalks — things like that old busted fridge or an outdated exercise bike. There is no such service. When The City is picking up sidewalk debris, it is responding to a complaint about sidewalk dumping from nearby residents. The City receives a call and the Department of Public Works sends someone out to pick up and haul items to the transfer station.

What residents do not know is that they are already paying for this service in their monthly refuse bill. In simple math, residents are paying twice to get rid of their junk. It is included in your monthly refuse bill already and we all pay again when Public Works hauls away the items on the taxpayers’ dime.

At a time when The City is tightening its belt, it is paramount that residents take advantage of easy ways to save money, and this is one of them. Save The City $4 million by keeping junk off sidewalks, and that means $4 million more for other services.

That old couch or mattress left on the sidewalk is a magnet for other problems on your street — graffiti, vermin and bacteria — and it attracts even more litter and dumping. Bulky items also block the sidewalks and reduce the right of way for pedestrians.

The solution is easy and just a phone call away. Through your refuse company (Sunset Recology or Golden Gate Recology), residents can receive free pickups of up to 10 items per year. Also, online classifieds and social networking programs are excellent venues for passing on your furniture. And there is always the Goodwill. Finally, if you cannot figure out what to do with an item, check out the Department of the Environment’s EcoFinder (, the premiere reference guide to unloading surplus items.

San Francisco devotes an excessive amount of time and resources to the relentless, Sisyphean task of ridding the streets and sidewalks of illegally dumped materials. A “Don’t Leave It on the Sidewalk” campaign has been launched to educate the public and encourage community involvement to prevent this activity and change behaviors.

This is a first step toward cultivating a new mentality around sidewalk dumping — a mentality that understands how convenient it is to toss old stuff, and an outlook that deeply realizes the real costs that come with placing junk on our streets.

The next time you see a couch on the sidewalk with a “free” sign attached to it, you will know that sidewalk dumping is not free. It impacts the beauty and cleanliness of our city and there is a better way. Visit to learn more.

About The Author

Mohammed Nuru

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