A little over a year ago, Baltimore City spent almost $9 million on free trash cans for residents to fend off rats and collect more garbage. Today, the city’s Department of Public Works announced that very same trash can program received a “Project of the Year” award from a regional public works association.

In DPW’s announcement of the award, given out by the American Public Works Association’s Mid-Atlantic chapter, the agency called the trash cans “an important innovation for Baltimore” proven to reduce litter and the presence of vermin.

If you have a Baltimore address, you should be familiar with your own trash can, which is either a hefty 65 gallons or a more modest 35 gallons. It’s also equipped with a microchip to fight the pesky problem of trash can theft.

In addition to being bigger and tech-enabled, the cans also have tighter-fitting lids with a seal “so that rats can’t get up and open them, gnaw through them,” said DPW chief spokesman Jeffrey Raymond. “That doesn’t mean that they’re impervious to larger rodents – raccoons and so forth; squirrels have been known to get at them – but it’s still a dramatic improvement over the past situation, which in too many cases was just leaving a bag of trash out in the alley,” he said.

Not everyone was happy about the new oversized receptacles in the beginning. “We did get some pushback, there’s no denying that. People either didn’t like the look of them [or] thought they were too big or unwieldy,” said Raymond.

However, after the agency piloted the cans in Northeast Baltimore’s Belair-Edison neighborhood and Mondawmin in West Baltimore in 2015, “we knew that this program could and should be successful,” he said.

As it turns out, the full rollout of the program happened almost exactly one year ago from today. “It’s a nice anniversary,” Raymond said.

The award from APWA was in the category of environmental projects in the $5-25 million range.

The association also recognized a pair of DPW employees with its “Public Works Hero” award. The duo, Alfonso Jenkins and Greg Schmidt, saved the life of a co-worker at DPW’s Patapsco Wastewater Treatment Plant for an unspecified incident, according to today’s announcement.

Baltimore environmental police officer Silas Phillips also received an honorable mention in that category for helping arrest suspects in the robbery of the Finksburg Pharmacy in Carroll County and prescription medication thefts in Sykesville. Another DPW employee, Phillip Chery from the Human Resources division, received an honorable mention for outstanding service in the field of “Non-Public Contact Customer Service.”

Employees will receive their awards in a ceremony in Roanoke, Va., on May 11.

Ethan McLeod is a freelance reporter in Baltimore. He previously worked as an editor for the Baltimore Business Journal and Baltimore Fishbowl. His work has appeared in Bloomberg CityLab, Next City and...