Keeping Our City Clean: A Behind the Scene Look at the Clean City Division of SPU

Clean up efforts that took place on 12/18/20, North Beacon Hill

You know when you spent your entire Saturday raking leaves only to wake up the next day, and be astonished that it looks exactly the way it did before you started? For SPU’s Clean City Division, that feeling is a familiar one. It’s not unusual for this team to pick up an old couch on the street corner, only to see a discarded broken refrigerator appear at the very same location the next day.  

Just like leaf-raking in the fall, the work required to keep Seattle clean is constant and unyielding. And though it can be frustrating at times, SPU’s Clean City Division is not only up for the task, they are excited by it! It’s an incredibly rewarding feeling to be part of a team that makes such an important contribution to every Seattleite’s quality of life.  

Before clean up, North Beacon Hill
After clean up, North Beacon Hill, 12/18/20

What Does the Clean City Division Do? 

  • Pick up large items illegally dumped on the side of the road. Our Illegal Dumping Program responds to reports of large items in the City’s public right of way which includes streets & sidewalks. Any junk, garbage or debris that’s been left on public property, including roadsides, open streets, and paved alleys is also considered illegal dumping. Coordination and the pickup of these items is typically done within 10 days of the item being reported.  
  • Remove Graffiti. Our Graffiti Abatement Program responds to city-wide graffiti reports on public property.  They dispatch requests and complaints to the appropriate city departments and agencies within 24 hours, with a goal for each city department to clean up reported graffiti within 10 business days. Our Graffiti Rangers are in the field daily responding to graffiti abatement requests and performing proactive sweeps to remove graffiti in the public right of way. They also have brown or gray paint on request to assist private property owners in painting out graffiti.  
  • Collect & dispose of needles. Our Sharps Collection Program  responds to any needles/sharps calls within in 24 hours. They manage needle boxes throughout Seattle and provide sharps kits to community members, businesses, property owners to collect needles on private property as well. 
  • Ensure public trash cans are accessible and functional. Our Public Place Litter & Recycling Can Program manages over 1,000 public litter cans throughout Seattle; these are the blue & black cans that you see in most of our business districts/heavy pedestrian areas. 
  • Pick up litter. Our Litter Abatement program deploys proactive litter routes in various locations throughout Seattle. Our contractors pick up ground litter, sharps, and bulky items that are in the public of way along the litter routes as well. 
  • Address trash needs among our unsheltered communities. Our RV & Encampment Trash Removal pilot programs provide purple bags and weekly trash pick-up for various RV and unauthorized homeless encampments in the public right of ways throughout Seattle. 

How the Clean City Division Does It:  Meet Their Village!  

Seattle is the 20th most populated city in the United States and as a big city, it’s daunting for one small team to manage the constancy of the entire city’s clean up needs. They rely heavily on many partners across the City to keep Seattle looking good.  

Other City Departments – All of our City departments play a role in helping keep Seattle clean, whether that is through community engagement, enforcement with the Seattle Department of Construction & Inspections (SDCI), managing various facilities (community centers, libraries, customer service centers, warehouses, etc.), maintaining our parks, greenspaces, or caring for the plants/trees along our sidewalks & streets. It’s a complex family, but we all do our different chores when it comes to maintaining the cleanliness of our city.  

Our Contractors –We work with many contractors to perform all the tasks necessary in keeping Seattle clean. These professionals take great pride in their work and go above and beyond to ensure Seattle is a thriving and clean city. From responding to illegal dumping requests, maintaining proactive litter routes, removing trash from RV and homeless encampments, to emptying our public litter cans – our contractors do the dirty work necessary for maintaining a clean city.  

Business Improvement Areas (BIAs) – BIAs often dedicate a portion of their funding to maintaining a clean & safe business district. As a city, this helps us a lot because they are often able to respond much more quickly to issues reported within the business district. If you live work, or frequent a neighborhood that is supported by one of our 10 BIAs in Seattle, be sure to show your appreciation for their hard work! 

Business & Property Owners – Many businesses and property owners go to great length to care for their space. Outside of schools, churches, businesses, apartment buildings, office buildings, you will often see a staff member diligently picking up litter or keeping the planting strips well maintained on their block. Not only does this provide a benefit to their customers, their students, tenants, etc. – but these benefits extend to everyone who walks by their property. 

Community Volunteers – We are fortunate to have robust volunteer participation across Seattle. Though our Adopt-a-Street program is currently on hold, volunteers are still finding ways to contribute in meaningful ways to Seattle’s cleanliness. (Stay tuned for a COVID safe reopening of this program soon.) 

You! – You truly are our eyes & ears when it comes to what is happening in our city. We rely on community members to let us when something needs to be cleaned up. The Find It, Fix It reports that you send in for that couch across the street, or those needles at the bus stop, helps our Clean City Division! Knowing what, when, where these activities are happening helps us be responsive and benefits our entire city.  

How Can You Help Us Keep Seattle Clean? 

  • Using public trash cans! Make sure when you are out and about, use the provided receptacles. The same rules apply to these cans as yours at home, only empty, clean, and dry recycling should be placed in the blue bin.  
  • Picking up the trash around where you live. This could be simply making sure your trash bins are closed, so stray litter doesn’t find its way to the street. 
  • Becoming an Adopt-a-Street Volunteer. This gives you access to free resources including free big, yellow bags, litter grabbers, gloves, and bag pick up. *This program is currently on hold but we will update as we find new, safe ways to open this back up to volunteers.  
  • Caring for your local park. So many of the parks in Seattle have a group that helps look after it… and if they don’t, you could always start one!  
  • Reporting what you see! If you haven’t already, download the Find It, Fix It app and don’t be shy about using it! You can also report issue to the hotline at (206) 684-7587 or on our website using this form.  

Just like the leaves will continue to fall each year, our Clean City team will be here (not to rake your leaves) but to continue in their mission to keep Seattle clean.