By TIM KELLY
Ocean City “boxed in” the dilemma of getting rid of environmentally-unfriendly pizza trash on the Boardwalk.
And it’s done so in true O.C. fashion, with a common sense yet creative solution.
Pizza box disposal units, a fancy name for pizza box-sized trash cans, are the latest tools in the City’s efforts to maintain a beautiful, safe and clean beach and Boardwalk.
The boxes are the same height as a standard Boardwalk trash container, and the same shade of blue.
You might not even notice them if not for the “Pizza Boxes” lettering on the sides.
That’s where the similarities end.
The containers are square in shape and tall enough to contain a stack of large pizza boxes. Pizza boxes are too large to fit in most regular trash cans and they obstruct regular trash.
Also, their accompanying grease and pizza crumbs make them un-recyclable.
Thus, the idea came up for separate temporary resting places for them until public works employees can scoop them up and dispose of the boxes properly.
Wooden pizza box disposal units first appeared last summer to help facilitate outdoor dining during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Now they are a fixture at every pizza joint on the boards.
The units, some of which have been built by hand by the City carpenters, are a good example of how a COVID-19 related problem resulted in a long-term solution.
“They really helped last year,” said Michael Rossbach Jr., the City’s Operations coordinator, explaining how most pizza boxes are literally a bad fit for Ocean City’s removal of Boardwalk trash and recyclables.
“With all of the outdoor dining last year, we needed somewhere to put those boxes. There was an instance of a stack of pizza boxes seven feet high. This year things have been cleaner and the boxes easier for the City to dispose of,” he said.
The boxes are a hit with Boardwalk diners, strollers and even falconers Erik Swanson and Ian Turner of East Coast Falcons, whose birds of prey famously patrol Ocean City’s wooden way.
Among other benefits, their birds prevent seagulls from swooping down and snatching slices right off the plates of unsuspecting pizza eaters.
“It is really a cleanliness issue, not a seagull issue,” said Swanson. “When our (falcons and owl) are around, the seagulls aren’t.”
Zoey, a female falcon handled by Turner, backed up the statement by flapping her wide wings.
The closest and only gull spotted at the time appeared to be several hundred yards away, searching for food the old-fashioned way.
It swooped over the ocean to secure its natural diet of small fish and other marine creatures.
Everyone seemed happier with that compared to the gulls’ frequent practice of taking Crab Fries and pizza from Boardwalk patrons.
“This is the top of the food chain,” Turner said, motioning toward his feathered friend and touting the absence of gulls.
Nevertheless, he and Turner agreed with visitors and residents who endorsed the effectiveness of the boxes.
“I think it’s a great idea,” said Brian McArdle, a lifelong Ocean City visitor who now lives in suburban Houston, Texas.
He was outside a pizza shop with five other members of his family.
“A few years ago it wasn’t so clean and (seagulls) were all around,” McArdle said. “Nobody wants to have their pizza taken by a bird.”
A strictly informal survey of ten units on Friday revealed an average of six pizza boxes contained in each.
That translates to 60 boxes neatly stacked and waiting for removal instead of jammed into regular trash cans or tumbling across the boards when the wind picked up.
Of the boxes we were watching, three appeared to have been commercially manufactured; seven others looked like they were built by hand.
On Saturday at the Public Safety Department garage, a member of the Beach Patrol said the hand-made boxes were built by City carpenters at the wood shop adjacent to the Henry S. Knight Operations and Engineering Center on East 12th Street.
Regardless if purchased or built by hand, the disposal boxes seemed to receive unanimously strong reviews.
“It’s a really great way to make peoples’ stay more pleasant,” said Karen Rauch of New Hope, Pa., vacationing with her husband, Al and son Andrew.
“Everything is so clean and neat,” she added. “It’s nice to enjoy a quiet lunch. We don’t have to worry about having our food taken by a gull. Or getting pooped on.”