If Mayor Bruce Harrell wants to unite Seattle, cleaning up litter should be at the top of his list.

When I travel around Seattle, all I see is litter. The next time you walk, drive or take public transit, look around. What do you see? 

Approaching Seattle on Interstate 5, the underpasses and freeway bank are littered with piles of trash. 

On the weekends, in the neighborhoods popular with students, lawns and medians are littered with empty cans, bottles, the ubiquitous red cups and broken scooters. 

At the bus stop where I used to catch the bus to get to work, there are masks sitting in the dirt and piles of cigarette butts and trash.

My former bus route 36 went through the Chinatown International District and Little Saigon neighborhoods, and there were always overflowing trash cans and heaps of garbage on sidewalks and in alleys.


Even on Link light rail, there is litter, and last week I had to warn someone from sitting in a seat where there was spilled food. 

Encountering trash and litter every day starts to weigh on a person’s mental outlook and reduces one’s faith in city governance. If the city cannot clean up litter, how can it solve its other problems?

During Harrell’s campaign, he stressed that “We are one Seattle.” As his term as mayor gets underway, the issue of litter control could act as a unifying force to help the city create a better future for all. Litter control and reducing trash in the streets is an issue all Seattleites can unite behind because it is tangible, and everyone can see improvements as they occur.  

The mayor has rightly stated that he wants more investments to clean up litter and restore parks. By accelerating the removal of trash and litter, residents will feel a greater sense of pride in their city and help restore some faith in the mayor’s office and city council. 

Another Harrell campaign issue was taking on the climate crisis and reducing the amount of CO2 produced by the city. This is a noble and necessary action, but we can’t really claim to be a “green city” or environmentally conscious if trash and garbage are spoiling our environment, harming wildlife and our waters.

Washington state has taken some proactive measures to reduce the amount of plastic waste produced by passing Senate Bill 5022 last spring. Although this will help to reduce restaurant litter, it won’t change the current disgusting state of our streets. The bill became law Jan. 1 and restricts restaurants from single-use disposable plastic items and bans most uses of polystyrene foam, among other measures.

In the city of Seattle’s 2022 budget signed by outgoing Mayor Jenny Durkan, almost $10 million is earmarked for litter and waste cleanup. Mayor Harrell should use the money expeditiously. Crews must be sent to clean up and maintain parks, new trash pick-up routes must be established to reduce overflowing trash cans, Dumpsters should be put next to all encampments, and transit vehicles and stations regularly cleaned. 

If these steps are prioritized, Seattle will feel a little nicer, a little safer and bring back that sense that we are good stewards of our environment.