- Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan released a new $5.6 million "Clean Cities Initiative" proposal to address the influx of trash in city streets and parks during the pandemic.
- The proposal calls for new cleaning efforts, with the following already underway and funded by existing resources: A Seattle Parks and Recreation (SPR) "Quick Response Team" to rapidly deal with reported trash on park lands; “SPR Maintenance Jamborees” for staff to catch-up on grounds maintenance and cleaning; and SPR infrastructure investments to improve sanitary conditions for parks and staff.
- The proposal also calls for a $1.43 million expansion of existing efforts like the community litter abatement program, and a $4.16 million creation of new cross-department initiatives like "Community Clean Teams" that would address illegal dumping, graffiti, trash and more in parks.
Cities nationwide have seen trash collection upended by the pandemic, particularly due to the increased number of people living and working from home.
Seattle has seen a 195% increase in the volume of material collected from the second to third quarters of this year, according to Seattle Public Utilities' (SPU) data regarding illegal dumping. The city has seen an increase of trash in streets and parks for a combination of reasons, including reduced staff capacity for trash collection due to safety concerns and a lack of resident volunteer opportunities, according to the mayor’s office.
The mayor’s proposal, which is under consideration by the city council, aims to address those challenges and would be funded with "new revenues from the updated revenue forecast," the proposal reads.
"Hearing from community members all over the city that more needs to be done to clean our public rights of way and parks, departments across the city have been working for weeks on a comprehensive plan that can be quickly implemented following City Council approval of additional funds," Mayor Durkan said in a statement.
"Our parks have become an important refuge for Seattle residents during the COVID-19 pandemic, and it is critical we keep our parks and playgrounds safe and accessible to all," she said.
The proposal calls for a $200,000 expansion of the SPU Encampment Bag Program, which would double service levels to address trash collection from "unsanctioned" homeless encampments. The effort is said to improve encampment conditions, and distribute bags to people living at encampments for trash to be filled.
Other proposed program efforts include a $35,000 expansion to the city’s existing needle disposal boxes, which would increase the city’s outdoor boxes for needle disposal from eight to 18 to support increased need. The Clean Cities Initiative proposal also notes that "the initiative is not a proposal to increase encampment removals."
Seattle’s trash problem comes as sanitation departments across the country face challenges like budget cuts and staffing shortages due to workers contracting COVID-19. Philadelphia, for example, has seen an increase in the number of 311 calls made about trash collection. New York City has seen garbage pile up in certain commercial corridors and residential streets due to budget cuts. And in Virginia Beach, VA, trash collection fell behind in August for days due to sanitation workers stopping work for one day to demand hazard pay, the Wall Street Journal reports.