Seattle last year picked up 1.9 million pounds of illegally dumped trash. And because of a handy-dandy app the city released, reports of such trash have jumped 75 percent.

Share story

Hey there, Seattle. We’re so environmentally conscious, and yet last year we illegally dumped 1.9 million pounds of garbage.

It’s quite a variety of stuff that, over the years, we’ve left on street corners and vacant lots.

Bibles. Blowup dolls. A rotting cow head. Containers filled with urine. Lots and lots of used diapers. Car engines. A hand grenade. A skinned dog in a plastic bag.

These days, the city is kept especially busy with citizens reporting illegally dumped trash — 8,200 reports so far this year, 75 percent more than in all of 2014.

Most Read Local Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks.

That’s because of a new app that the city released last year. The city says it doesn’t believe more junk is being illegally dumped, but that more is being reported.

This tech city has gone crazy with the Find It, Fix It, part of Mayor Ed Murray’s vow to “improve neighborhoods one block at a time.”

But tapping away on a smartphone also has meant that the average wait time for illegal trash to be picked up has jumped from 10 days to 20 days. (You can also report illegally dumped trash by calling 206-684-7587.)

For the past 17 years, the city has contracted with the state’s Department of Corrections (DOC) to have offenders pick up our illegally dumped refuse. Last year that was more than 33,000 hours of free garbage pickup.

It’s people like Damario Hughley, 24, of Kent, who clean up after us. He’s working off 152 hours of community service.

On a recent morning, Hughley is part of a crew that’s just arrived at 43rd Avenue South and South Webster Street in the Rainier Valley.

They’re sizing up a pile of mattresses, rolls of carpeting, a sofa, a TV, tires and an assortment of that furniture made out of laminate that is wobbly even when new.

“Maybe an eviction,” Hughley says. He adds, “You just have to watch out for the needles and biohazards. Like urine and feces.”

The DOC operates seven trucks, seven days a week, with three or four offenders assigned per truck. Each crew visits 15 to 20 sites.

For the needles, the crews wear latex gloves and use those long-reach pickup grabbers. For bodily fluids and chemicals, a hazardous material company is called. A grenade, a gun, the cops are notified.

Oh, as for the skinned dog, Donna Waters, the DOC program manager who oversees the crews, has no idea about the circumstances behind that.

Spending time with the crews, it sure seems that we are a city awash in trash, just part of the passing scenery.

There it is, in that empty lot overgrown with blackberry bushes, that’s an old 60-inch projection TV. Easier to dump it than take it to a recycling place.

Recycling guide

Recycling questions?

Learn how to sort your garbage, compost and recyclables like a pro with our Seattle trash-sorting guide.

Sometimes the televisions let out an exhausted-sounding hiss when they’re dumped into a truck, and something has been pierced.

Says Waters, “We see a lot of TVs after tax season, people getting back money, they go out and buy a new TV.”

Sometimes the crews find an abandoned vehicle amid a pile of trash. The crews are called to “top off pieces” of junk around before it’s towed out.

Waters says it’s not hard to figure what the vehicles were used for; neighbors tell them what was going on in a van.

And, she says, when crews open the door, “We’ll find 100 condoms. They’ve seen acts of prostitution through the windows.”

Kristin Schaffer of Federal Way is another offender in today’s crew. She working off 48 hours of community service.

She says about all that garbage, “It’s sad people are that way. It’s disgusting. It’s all over the city.”

The work crews are supervised by a corrections officer such as Sgt. Rick Mroos. Each day, SPU emails the corrections supervisors a “hot sheet” of priority sites.

Hot spots from this year have included areas in Broadview, South Park, Ballard, Interbay, Georgetown and along the West Seattle Bridge and Alaskan Way Viaduct.

Damario Hughley, working with a Department of Corrections work crew picks up trash in a Seattle neighborhood that was reported to the Seattle Public Utilities with a recently released app.  (Steve Ringman/The Seattle Times)
Damario Hughley, working with a Department of Corrections work crew picks up trash in a Seattle neighborhood that was reported to the Seattle Public Utilities with a recently released app. (Steve Ringman/The Seattle Times)

No, you’re not going to see Laurelhurst among the hot spots.

In many of the hot spots, such as Ballard, says Alex Tonel, the city’s lead illegal-dumping inspector, “In the last few years we’ve had people living in cars, RV trailers. They tend to be very transient and leave stuff behind as they move to other areas of town.”

The inspectors can take a pretty educated guess as to where the trash is coming from.

At one location on this day, on South Massachusetts Street, there are three mattresses, another humongous TV and the usual assortment of furniture.

Hughley takes an ax to the furniture so it can be better loaded and hauled to a solid- waste facility.

The crew can see that right near the junk pile is a home that has a backyard full of junk. They guess that maybe this is just overflow.

The city says one way it hopes to speed up the trash pickup is by “technological solutions.”

For example, it wasn’t until this year that the city could email the corrections people the hot sheets. Previously, DOC could only accept faxes.

Right now, there are three inspectors to handle the calls. The city says it might reassign more staff to help out.

Waters provides a list of items found, a seemingly never-ending variety.

Safes. A surfboard. Marijuana and crack pipes. Dentures. Even small amounts of cash, usually about $20, which the offender finding it gets to keep.

Nothing surprises her.

“Anything can be dumped, and you don’t know why,” Waters says.