A Closer Look E-mail the author

CleanScapes, Inc.

Signe Gilson • 206-859-6700

Signe Gilson

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 waste.”

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 landfills today.

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 train.”

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 added.

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.