As trash piles up volunteer cleanup programs gain traction

Washington has a huge litter problem, the first state Department of Ecology study in almost two decades says.

Kitsap County is no exception, trash piling on the sides of many roads and ramps and the above-average improper disposal of solid waste leaving some properties in disarray.

Caitlan Newman of Public Works, who specializes in “trash out of place,” spoke to county residents April 3 about the continuing changes in solid waste cleanup after the county lost its primary litter removal method in 2021.

“Since the early ‘80s to 2021, inmates from the Kitsap County Jail were taken out as a supervised litter crew to pick up litter on county roads and some city and state roads,” she said. “Unfortunately, that program ended due to the safety concerns related to the pandemic and also a lack of eligible inmates.”

The program’s disbandment left Kitsap without its leading option to pick up its share of the 37.8 million pounds of waste littered statewide every year. Additionally, recent increases in trash have been associated with the growth in homelessness in parts of the county.

While trash is a physical symptom of homelessness, it is also a symptom of our society, Newman said. “We generate, on an individual level, around 4.9 pounds of trash per person per day in this country. So you think, if you’re living outside, of course you’re going to see that if you don’t have access to the solid waste system that the rest of us do.”

While contractors and drug court participants help cover some of the impact, it is through the efforts of volunteers and nonprofits that the road to reduced litter has seen a true impact. The 2022 launch of Kitsap’s Adopt a Spot volunteer program provides supplies for those willing to clean up litter in a certain area. 2024 data shows just under 600 miles of adopted roads. “The biggest tool we have is you all—volunteers,” Newman said. “The Adopt-A-Spot program is our biggest and best way to move litter right now.”

Weeks into a newly announced Kitsap pilot program is another cleanup resource for Silverdale, stemming from efforts of volunteers. Matthew Boisson’s Sponsor-A-Can is aimed at cleaning and returning stolen shopping carts to their rightful owners and was operating strictly out of personal funding before being contracted by the county for a six-month program. “I started this just out of civic duty,” Boisson said. “I got tired of it being filthy.”

Sponsor-A-Can had been gaining interest among county leaders in the past few months for its work to address health and safety concerns from the community and cost concerns from merchants regarding cart thefts. Before the program’s commencement, Sponsor-A-Can was involved in cleanups like the one on Hospital Hill in February.

“Every business that you can think of was represented, and anything that you could think of was in those carts,” Boisson said.

Since starting in March, that statement continues to hold true for the pilot program that focuses on responding to the Silverdale Urban Growth Area. Cart collection data presented April 3 amounted to 251 carts in total, many of which came from major retailers like Safeway (57) and Target (54).

Boisson continues to be excited about advancements that have been made in getting shopping carts cleaned up and returned, and with so much work to do, the effort may not have survived without county funding. “I wasn’t sure if we would get support from the corporate entities. We thought that it would be a community-driven entity to actually get out there and do this. I never expected to have such awesome help from the county to get this all going,” he said.