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Uncovered trash has made for easy feasting for rodents. Now, Boston officials are looking to end the ‘rat buffet.’

By Christopher Gavin,


"The rats don't run this city!"
Trash bags piled high on Chandler Street in the South End during the winter of 2015. John Tlumacki/Globe Staff


Right now, the rodents are part of the problem. But Boston city councilors are hoping the pests could one day be the ones stuck with a challenge.

Councilors Kenzie Bok, Ruthzee Louijeune, and Ed Flynn on Wednesday called for a hearing to discuss the possibility of starting some form of “a trash containerization pilot” program for Boston’s downtown neighborhoods, as uncovered trash has made for easy feasting for rodents.

“We’re sort of ending up with a rat buffet out on the street,” Bok told her fellow councilors.

To be clear, trash cans are allowed in the city’s dense inner core.

But many households forgo putting their meal scraps, discarded packaging, and whatever other refuse they may have into bins due to the lack of storage space outside and curbside on trash day, Bok said.

Residents, therefore, often use only trash bags to store their garbage for collection, Bok explained. Under city ordinance, folks are also allowed to do that, so long as they use a two-ply bag or a plastic bag “with a minimum thickness of 0.9 millimeters,” according to Wednesday’s filing.

But needless to say, the bag-only practice makes for easy meal time for the city’s hungry rodents, who have become even more of a nuisance in the Hub in recent years.

“The rats go through them and rip them apart,” said Councilor Gabriela Coletta, who represents the North End.

And the problem has been longstanding in some neighborhoods.

In the South End, for example, a period of trash pickup scheduling woes in 2019 underscored the problem as streets became littered with trash, in part due to how the flimsy bags became a welcome sight for scavengers, rodents, and even acts of Mother Nature to rip open.

But rodents play a particular role in the problem, as rat populations thrived during the COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns in 2020.

Last year, Census data compiled by Apartment Guide showed Boston is the second most rat-infested metro area in the country. The city is home to 18.38 percent of the nation’s rodent sightings.

“The reports for rodent infestation have risen considerably,” said Councilor Michael Flaherty. “We really saw an uptick during COVID, but even since those days, the numbers continue to rise.”

Compounding on the trash container problem, too, is this fact Flaherty picked up from the city’s rodent experts: “Dog feces is the meal of choice.”

The councilor at-large explained in the City Council chamber Wednesday that sometimes residents will curb their dogs and place the waste in the trash soon after garbage is collected for the week.

The lingering stool can be something of a magnet for rodents.

“The rats will actually be feasting on the dog feces in the bottom of the bag,” he said.

So what can be done?

That’s what councilors want to find out.

While several councilors emphasized the need for creative solutions, Bok also noted, however, this is hardly the first time the city has taken on the issue.

There was a time, she said, when many of the city’s households had a container for trash embedded in the ground.

Known as a “subterranean receiver,” the contraptions were used quite often in the early-to-mid 20th century.

Nonetheless, councilors will seek to hear ideas and input from several city departments, including the Inspectional Services Department, the Public Works Department, and the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics.

The hearing order was assigned to the Committee on City Services, Innovation, and Technology.

“The thing that keeps playing in my head is, ‘The rats are going to hate this announcement,'” a laughing Councilor Kendra Lara said — an apparent reference to a now-viral moment when New York City officials announced new efforts to curb their city’s rat woes last week. “‘But the rats don’t run this city!'”

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