Signe Gilson • 206-859-6700
Just ten years ago, CleanScapes was pressure washing
the alleyways in the Pioneer Square area of Seattle.
It was a job that needed to be done, and Chris
Martin founded CleanScapes to do it.
Today, CleanScapes is a growing waste collection
service, with about 80 employees, that is in competition
with some of the big names in the industry.
Signe Gilson, waste diversion manager for the company,
said that in the beginning, the idea was to make
the Pioneer Square area more pleasant for both
visitors and residents. Pioneer Square is a densely
built area, filled with historic buildings and
with many tourist attractions nearby.
First, Martin was doing pressure washing, but then
he came up with “dumpster free” trash removal that
would eliminate the need for large dumpsters in
the alleys. The system was designed to be a “pay
as you throw” operation, where customers are charged
for what they dispose of, rather than assessing
a flat rental fee for a dumpster. Gilson described
it as a more cost-effective way for the businesses
to operate, since it “gives an incentive to reduce
The city of Seattle likes the dumpster-free approach
so much that it is considering enforcing a regulation
that says dumpsters are not allowed in city right-of-ways.
Gilson said that the law is already on the books
but hasn’t been enforced. Now that dumpster-free
trash pickups are available, businesses have a
viable alternative to the dumpsters.
Gilson explained that CleanScapes’ dumpster-free
customers use color-coded plastic bags for waste,
and CleanScapes makes pickups once or twice a day
on each route, so trash isn’t left out for long
periods of time. She said that this works well
for a dense urban area where the land that the
dumpster takes up is more valuable to the business.
“Right of ways are for people,” Gilson said, and
this approach is “reclaiming the alleys,” for better
use. “The idea is to make our downtown areas livable.”
It wasn’t long before the dumpster-free business
grew to include other parts of the downtown area
of Seattle, and then spread to other areas of the
city. Just recently, CleanScapes entered the more
traditional waste hauling field when they won a
contract for waste hauling in the nearby city of
Shoreline. In April of 2009, CleanScapes will also
begin hauling trash in the city of Seattle, in
a shared contract with another waste hauler.
Gilson said that since CleanScapes has never owned
a landfill, the company’s focus has always been
“the more modern one of waste diversion.” She said,
“We don’t have the mind set of owning a landfill
and filling a landfill. Our direction is waste
reduction and recycling.”
The city of Seattle encourages its residents to
recycle and has included incentives for composting.
Gilson said that compost is currently picked up
every other week, but expects that soon it will
be every week. She also hopes that eventually the
regular trash pickups will decrease to every other
week as composting and recycling increase. “People
are embracing it,” she said. Gilson said that next
to construction and demolition materials, food
waste is one of the heaviest components going to
Gilson has been working for CleanScapes for about
two years and said that she most enjoys meeting
with the customers and working with them to help
them increase recycling and composting. She said
that Seattle’s trash leaves the area on a train,
stretching “a mile long,” and that she imagines
that the work she is doing will “help shorten the
She is also enjoying watching the company grow,
and expects that expansion will continue. “There
are a lot of small cities around here,” she said.
Along with the growth comes new employees, and
she also enjoys interacting with them.
As far as the company, she said that she particularly
enjoys the innovation and the fact that, “It’s
encouraged to be creative.” And because the company
is locally owned, “We’re approachable here. We
are part of the culture here.”
As part of the culture, CleanScapes participates
in a number of community events, including the
city’s Clean and Green Parade, street fairs, and
other events where they set up collection locations
for trash, compost and recyclables. “We tend to
get involved in community clean-up things,” she
Gilson said that when the company provides its
service through a contract, “the innovation isn’t
as apparent,” to the customers, but she said that
innovation, future thinking, and creativity are
what the company is about.