‘Clean Up Your Act, Seattle’: Local man’s anti-litter campaign

(Photos courtesy Michael Merta. Here: “Olson Place SW going up toward Roxbury”)
It’s easy to see a problem and gripe about it. Getting something done – doing it yourself – not so easy. Michael Merta says he’s figuring this out, as he tries to rally support to fight littering and other blight. He asked if we would publish his open letter and a few photos. He lives in White Center but is challenging folks throughout the West Seattle/White Center/South Park/Georgetown areas, and beyond:

I’m wondering if anyone else has noticed an increasing amount of graffiti and litter on our West Seattle and South Seattle roadways and public places lately? I have, and I decided to try to write to the appropriate departments to see what was happening. I emailed the city of Seattle and received a polite thank you and acknowledgement, though no specific reply stating that anything would be done.

I wrote to WSDOT about litter all along SR 509 which seems to have been accumulating for quite some time with no noticeable effort to clean it up. I have not had a reply to that complaint.

When I wrote to King County I received a very prompt reply from Dinah Day with the King County Illegal Dumping hotline, who wrote “I do have to warn you that there have been many budget cuts and how often and how much litter gets cleaned up has been significantly reduced in the last few years.” Those were her exact words, and at least they serve as confirmation that I have not been imagining things.

Personally, I feel at a loss to figure out where to go next. I’ve created a Facebook page where people can post photos, discuss the problem, and try to come up with some solution:

One person complaining probably won’t get much attention but if we all get together maybe we can make some positive change.

We all know there have been budget cuts but I don’t think it’s acceptable to just say “budget cuts” and not do anything. Aside from looking terrible, its a matter of public safety if you subscribe to the broken-windows theory of crime prevention. There are always going to be people that litter and paint graffiti; we pay taxes to assure that it gets cleaned up. If the city, the county, and WSDOT do not have the money to take care of it in a timely fashion, perhaps we as taxpayers need to remind them that for us, it’s a priority.

36 Replies to "'Clean Up Your Act, Seattle': Local man's anti-litter campaign"

  • Born To Be Mild January 31, 2011 (9:41 pm)

    “We all know there have been budget cuts but I don’t think it’s acceptable to just say “budget cuts” and not do anything.” That’s EXACTLY what budget cuts mean! As a taxpayer, I love the money that I get to spend because the government doesn’t. But YOU need to understand if no one wants to pay taxes, then you don’t get government services. You want service, you’re going to pay either business or government. And like the old saying “Gas, Grass, or @ss, Nobody rides for free”, I’m not going to help out. Oh, unless you want to get together a work party and volunteer to clean up the neighborhood.

  • Marie January 31, 2011 (9:51 pm)

    Gov’t can and does do a lot, but we cannot expect them to do everything, especially in these difficult budget times. Most of us have limited firefighting or pothole-patching skills, but picking up litter and organizing work parties IS something that we taxpayers can do without relying on our limited government offices.

    This is an excellent example of where individuals and small groups can quickly and easily make a difference, either with the assistance of the city (who will provide tools, bags and pick-up locations for organized neighborhood clean-up groups) or on our own.

  • Yardvark January 31, 2011 (9:56 pm)

    What’s going to happen is that that trash is either going to sit there or some good-natured people are going to get out there in a work party to pick it up.

    Something tells me that those good hearts aren’t going to be the same folks who voted down tax increases on the wealthiest last election.

  • noLongerUsingTheStreets January 31, 2011 (10:09 pm)

    I ride a bike most days and have been considering starting a Seattle Bike Polo Trash league. You ride with some grabber-hand device and attempt to pick up and bag trash as you go. Points for quantity, perhaps extra points for heavy objects or things of some real value. It is really gross, disheartening, and sad out there–what gets into people?

  • s January 31, 2011 (10:17 pm)

    “perhaps we as taxpayers need to remind them that for us, it’s a priority.”
    A priority over what? What do you want to cut to pay for increased litter patrols? I appreciate Michael’s caring about this, but in this budget climate, litter is the least of our problems. If you care about it, I think a volunteer work party is your best bet.

  • bebecat January 31, 2011 (11:57 pm)

    I say put on some gloves, grab a couple plastic bags and go for a walk in your neighborhood. Make the walk productive! Bend over! Pick up trash! Work that core! I’ve done it and it feels great. Try a 3 block radius! Every other day! Be sure to pay special attention to bus stops as folks love to toss drink and food containers before boarding the bus. :)

  • koni February 1, 2011 (1:43 am)

    I have often thought about how the old “Give a hoot, don’t pollute” campaign instilled an aversion to littering in me as a child whenever I see litter strewn about. Apparently, there is no dedicated program in schools anymore directed at kids to teach them not to litter and what the consequences of litter in the environment are. How about a volunteer program coordinated with schools to reach kids (and through them, families) and teach them to respect their own city and environment. It could be presented in a fun and participatory way (“Let’s go pick up litter in the neighborhood” “Who can pick up more litter this weekend with their families?”) Parents can learn through their kids too ;)

  • JD February 1, 2011 (6:13 am)

    Someone will always find something they think the government should be providing for them. This guys energy, as stated by previous people, would be better spent trying to organize groups himself. With the budget cuts I have no qualms w/ the cutback on litter patrols instead of police/fire/medic services

  • A February 1, 2011 (7:46 am)

    For Christmas a year ago my husband and son bought me one of those grabbers. I love it! There is always trash in our alley so my 4yo son and I go out and pick it up. Sometimes we pull the trash can around the whole block picking everything up. In fact, we need to start taking it on walks so we can clean up everywhere. Why not? We used to live in North Delridge and they had clean-up days where we would walk the whole neighborhood and pick up trash. It was great!

  • Genessee neighbor February 1, 2011 (8:02 am)

    My Dad was ahead of his time. For years he ALWAYS took a grocery bag with him on his walks and would pick up litter along the way. Usually with a “tisk tisk” and a shake of the head, saying something about people being such pigs. I find myself picking things up here and there too rather than wait for the city or someone else to do so.

  • B-squared February 1, 2011 (8:18 am)

    As nice as it would be to have the government cleaning up after us, it seems like a poor use of funds (except for eradicating graffiti on public property). i believe when something is done for you, you value it less and start to just expect it. It’s sad really as littering is simply someone saying “i don’t care” whether it be through willfullness or negligence. Leaving the litter in place encourages others to contribute to it. Perhaps the flip side is also true. Many of us “do care”. Perhaps if we are seen by family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, etc picking up litter, they, too, would be willing to contribute time to cleaning up.

    bottom line is that communities should be cleaning this stuff up whether that be quarterly work parties in neighborhoods, parks, greenbelts, kid work parties around schools, stretches of road that a group could “adopt”, etc. This would help instill pride in the areas cleaned up, serve as teaching moments for children (majority of litters are under 30), provide volunteers with exercise and foster a sense of community.

  • ToolShare February 1, 2011 (8:42 am)

    The West Seattle Tool Library would happily promote any of these neighborhood workparties and, even more happily, supply them with the appropriate tools: rakes, shovels, grabbers, etc. Just let us know what you’re planning and we’ll see what we can do to help.

  • Sue February 1, 2011 (8:44 am)

    I live on Fauntleroy, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people shove trash into the bushes in front of my house. What is wrong with people that they think it’s okay to crumple up their McDonalds bag and shove it in somebody’s bushes? People who park in front of our house (which has become a park & ride of sorts) also toss their garbage out when getting in/out of their cars. I don’t have to go far to help clean up litter.

  • hollyplace February 1, 2011 (8:49 am)

    How many grabbers does the tool library have?

  • Angela February 1, 2011 (9:03 am)

    “Something tells me that those good hearts aren’t going to be the same folks who voted down tax increases on the wealthiest last election.” Touche, Yardvark.

    Sue – the same thing happens constantly in front of our house. :(

    Something that hasn’t been mentioned that I’ve noticed is that it seems like the people collecting garbage and recycling don’t really care if half of the load misses the truck and ends up on the street. I’ve watched them dump one of my properly packed and lined up containers all over the street before and then just drive away. I understand that they’re busy, but it just can’t be that hard to bend over and pick up some obvious large items that missed the truck. Or just be more cautious when dumping in the first place. It’s sad, but it often seems that the street is more trashed on trash pick up days. :(

    I walk up and down my street regularly and clean up after other people. I agree with most people above that this – organized or not – is the most effective way to make a difference at this point.

    Way to fight the good fight!

  • NotMe February 1, 2011 (9:16 am)

    It’s good to see I live amongst a few people that do care what our neighborhood looks like. For the most part, cleaning litter shouldn’t be the burden of the tax payer.

  • NicePerson February 1, 2011 (9:37 am)

    Why do you expect government to do this? This is a presonal responsibility issue — STOP DUMPING YOUR GARBAGE OUT YOUR CAR WINDOW. When I was in grade school, the evils of littering were part of what we were taught. Seems like we need to return to that teaching, with public action. Talk to your neighbors. Talk to your friends and their children. Seems that grass root action would be far better than expecting government to act, especially when the voters in Seattle keep nickeling and diming everthing with these silly referendums. I’d rather have government do things that really matter and have citizens be better stewards of their neighborhoods.

  • A February 1, 2011 (9:55 am)

    I agree with Angela-a major offender is the garbage man. Our alley is littered with garbage after they come through. It’s very annoying.

  • toniw February 1, 2011 (10:01 am)

    What I’ve noticed: Overflowing garbage cans, Garbage spilling during garbage pickup.
    Ways to make it better: Get a “garbage brick” to hold your lid closed. Recycle/compost more. Make a deal with a neighbor to share extra can space. Clean up your area plus a little more when you move your can off the curb.

  • CitizenR February 1, 2011 (10:06 am)

    I think we should all do our part by not throwing things out the car window. I also think we should do our part by picking things up around our neighborhoods.
    BUT I think it would be good to get MORE “work parties” of people who NEED to do “COMMUNITY SERVICE” for tickets, graffitti, littering, skipping school, anything that requires community service hours! Too many of these people are not doing their service hours or find some cushion inside event such as a filing job! (or sitting in a parking lot with a sign that say’s -no parking for this event!) Our city needs to think about where they are wasteing money instead of crying! We retired people haven’t had a raise in 3 years! But our taxes, food, gas, utilities keep going up! Deal with it City!!!!

  • Your neighbor February 1, 2011 (11:08 am)

    When my 28yr old was a senior in high school, students and parents worked to raise money for the overnight senior party. One of the things we did was to clean Husky stadium after the Seahawks/Denver game. At that time the Seahawks were playing at Husky Stadium because the Kingdome was gone and Quest field was not built yet. YUK!! I had always taught my kids to put any and all garbage into a garbage can. Then we have to rake out a football stadium in the rain after a pro football game. I could not believe the amount (read TONS)of garbage left at the seats. Maybe 2% made it into a garbage can. I mention this because we, as a society, have trained ourselves that “someone else” will clean it up. I also have been on several organized clean-up the highway walks and clean up my alley when I see litter. I want my neighborhood to look like the residents care and are aware. I can understand some paper flying out the window of a car or back of a truck, a receipt left under a new part or the wind catching papers on the seat and blowing one out the window. But the bottles and cans, dog litter in a plastic bag, fast food containers, take your garbage with you. What I really don’t understand is the person who feels it’s ok to dump the ashtray in the Safeway parking lot or change the baby diper and set it out on the ground while they wait for their partner to get more beer and cigarettes in the store.

  • Julia February 1, 2011 (11:46 am)

    In light of all the reduced revenue and budget cuts, I agree that we can’t expect the city/county/state to do everything. I would love to be part of a work party to clean up our area, especially the bus stops on 16th Ave SW and alleys on either side. Buying a trash grabber today to do my part.

  • Paul February 1, 2011 (12:02 pm)

    I live close to WSH they should not only have a class on how to throw the garbage in one of the many available cans in front of mcdonalds and the bus stops. But also learn how to stop when the crosswalk says don’t walk. Just some basics Kiddos

  • Michael Merta February 1, 2011 (12:27 pm)

    I appreciate all of your comments. At least now people are talking about it. I’m happy to help organize a work party of some sort. I have to say though, like all of you, I have a busy life. I don’t have time to be out every weekend picking up trash and cleaning graffiti. Don’t we need a more permanent solution? We all know, we can pick it up this week, but its gonna be back next week. I’d love it if people would just not litter in the first place. Lets get some ideas together on the facebook page.

  • Former WSHS grad February 1, 2011 (12:34 pm)

    Paul! Agree whole hartedly!

  • brandee February 1, 2011 (12:42 pm)

    why don’t they put the criminals to work that are sitting in jail. thats what they do in eastern washington and the highways look much better.

  • idunn February 1, 2011 (1:46 pm)

    Michael Merta raises a valid point.

    *** While municipalities obviously have less resources than before, this does not excuse them from their charge as stewards. Not that they could or should necessarily pick up all trash in their jurisdiction, but overseeing this problem is one of their responsibilities. Just pleading budget shortfalls and leaving it at a form letter is not sufficient.

    *** As one who at times has picked up a lot of my fellows thoughtless trash from rivers, the woods, city streets, etc., I can attest to what cretins some of them are. It will prove an enlightening exercise for anyone who wonders to take a sack with you and look to find how much trash can accumulate along most any road. Or just make a point to pick up any errant cigarette butt or anything else you happen across in your daily wanderings. If letting nothing pass you, then quickly apprised of the situation, even in areas that appear and are far cleaner.

    *** The reflection in this not just upon those low-life enough not to dispose of their trash responsibly, but also upon the greater society that leaves it there. There is no excuse for the former, but little more for we unfortunate to follow if doing nothing. It can seem a daunting, thankless, and infinite task, and in some respects is. But even one determined person can do a great deal in their community, and in sympathy they may engender in their neighbors possibly much more.

    *** Our environment, with trash or not, is a reflection of we as a society. As individuals, also collectively in heart and soul. Those caring not will more if in consequence they discover none of their neighbors appreciate their actions, and say so. There are a variety of ways to take out the trash, with the primary not leaving it yourself, and taking the time to remove that you should not have to. Also in a collective spirit that means clean, and will tolerate nothing other.

    *** Municipalities and various authorities can be helpful, and should not disregard this issue, since in extension it reflects in other related ills in society as well. But they cannot do everything, needing guidance and support from all they serve.

    *** That can begin with someone like Michael Merta who cares enough to say something.

  • Anne February 1, 2011 (4:30 pm)


    I work for Councilmember McDermott. He would like to help organize a workparty. Give our an office a call at 296-1670 or email me at anne.burkland@kingcounty.gov.

  • The HepCat February 1, 2011 (4:35 pm)

    You had a 28 year old in high school?

  • sophistatiki February 1, 2011 (4:49 pm)

    Dont we have an ADOPT A STREET program?

  • Mike February 1, 2011 (6:35 pm)

    I agree that the optimal solution is a partnership between local govt and citizens. The local govt does need to own regular clean up of highways, such as 509. It is too dangerous for citizens to take on, however, the parks, residential streets and greenbelts could be impacted by volunteers.

  • A February 1, 2011 (8:17 pm)

    Why can’t people just pick up trash when they are out on a walk? It’s really not hard.

  • JaneL February 1, 2011 (9:16 pm)

    Where I live part time in Fremont I have started taking a garbage bag and gardening glove when I walk. It’s amazing how many wrappers and such collect. But I have noticed after several months that sometimes I don’t even fill the bag. And my neighbors have noticed and I have caught a few picking up trash on their way down the alley. It’s a habit that I hope catches on. I know that littering will never be totally stopped (and it’s true that sometimes things blow out of cars and bags, etc.) but it would be nice to cultivate a neighborhood culture where people pick a few things up as they walk by. Note: Keep safety in mind. I have had a few things that I had to get the grabber for. Too much even for my garden-gloved hand. And I do agree that highways need a different answer than single people walking them. That is where honest brainstorming between cities and groups can help. What was that Margaret Mead quote again? Definitely fits for this kind of topic.

  • Chuck February 2, 2011 (11:16 pm)

    In reply to you JaneL. I don’t go to the same extent that you do, but I do make a habit of at least once a day picking up one piece of litter and disposing of it properly. Of course I do more than just one, but the point is I do that much daily. I often think what if everyone were to pick up just one piece of litter per day. There are something like 3,000,000 of us living in the greater Sea-Tac-Everett region. That would be something like 1,095,000,000 pieces of trash each year getting tossed properly and not polluting our world or eyesight. Think if we all did two or more a day. Pretty amazing to contemplate.

  • Tom February 3, 2011 (7:33 am)

    Seattle has a very active and supportive Adopt A Street Program. The best in country, I think. Once you have an official AAS group you qualify for free bags, grabbers, safety vests, gloves, etc as well as free disposal of the litter collected. They also have volunteer liablity insurance. 206.684.7647 is the number. It’s all free and you can even get a couple of signs posted on your street. It’s an SPU program and has survived budget cust since the 80s.

  • Councilmember Joe McDermott February 10, 2011 (4:32 pm)

    I am happy to report my office is working with Mike to organize a work party to do some needed clean up in this area. Mike will keep you updated on the Facebook page. You are, of course, welcome to join us!

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