Vashon Trash Can Trial Hits Midpoint
Commentary, February 2024

Vashon Trash Can Trial Hits Midpoint

By March Twisdale

As we hit the midpoint of the Vashon Trash Can Trial, it’s the perfect time for Islander feedback, but who do we contact? That question is a moving target, but The Loop has dug deep and we have answers! Before we dive down the nearest trash chute (a la Leia, Luke, and friends) here’s a reminder of our past “trashy” success!

Uptown trash has long been managed “out of sight, out of mind.” Legitimate sources of trash in town are mostly generated by customer sales, and consisting primarily of napkins, coffee cups, pastry wrappers, or bottles and cans, reflecting our disposable container culture. Because all such businesses offer in-house trash cans, trash generation and disposal has traditionally balanced out nicely. Compare our streets to anywhere else in the region, and we look pristine.

It’s not just businesses that keep Vashon looking good. Islanders have great habits! When our coffee cup runs dry or we chomp down on the last bite of our lunchtime meal, we either find the nearest shop with an indoor trash can or we carry our trash with us and dispose of it at home. What we don’t do is drop it on the ground. Thankfully, Island visitors, tourists and summer people tend to share our ethics around littering and pretty much do the same.

But we’re not perfect, and business owners sometimes complain. In 2012, two cans were placed in front of US Bank and the Vashon Pharmacy. Initially a celebrated move, the inevitable problems associated with public trash cans soon came into play, leading to an effort by Jim Marsh and the Chamber (in 2019) to gain King County assistance. In 2020, that effort derailed entirely, but then came the 2021 Strawberry Festival.

According to David Vogel, trash management for the 2021 Strawberry Festival was insufficient. This was a one-time event, and minor fails were to be expected, as the Chamber was recovering from the strain of COVID lockdowns. Still, the 2021 Strawberry Festival triggered the Vashon-Maury Community Council (V-MCC) into action. Based on the assumption that the V-MCC represented broad Island opinion on the topic, John Taylor (head of King County’s Department of Local Services) agreed to pass the proposed “Vashon Trash Can Trial” on to Bong Sto. Domingo, Community Liaison for King County Department of Local Services.

Sto. Domingo did his job well. Scrounging around, he found one year’s worth of King County money and enough unused trash cans for the trial. Amy Drayer, Executive Director of Vashon’s Chamber of Commerce, acted as liaison, while the V-MCC board worked with the county to “determine locations for the trash receptacles.” Oddly enough, according to one prominent business owner who is active in the Chamber, Uptown business owners were not consulted, even though their storefronts are directly impacted.

Overnight, Vashon Island was dotted with refurbished metal trash cans, and an email from the Chamber went out promoting this alteration to our Vashon Uptown experience. Reminiscent of the Rumble Strip Fiasco of 2012, there was little to no public outreach prior to installation, but unlike that debacle (which rallied cyclists, parents, influential Islanders, our political representatives, and the 2012 version of the V-MCC), we can’t blame the government. King County was invited in by a small cohort of Islanders.

Let us pause and appreciate those who step up and try. In a world where some try to do truly terrible things to others, we are lucky to live on an Island where most people try to do good. But good intentions aren’t enough when your idea changes the lives of everyone else. A properly conducted, community-wide project requires the follow five steps: (1) broad public outreach allowing for community assessment of perceived needs, (2) clarification of hoped-for benefits, (3) brainstorming of potential unintended consequences, (4) consideration of myriad solutions, and (5) committed follow-through. Good intentions are a fine starting point. Now it’s time to make needed changes based on actual experience.

Which brings us back to the amazing, friendly, and awesome Bong Sto. Domingo. Bong wants to hear from as many Islanders as possible, to accurately assess Island opinions on the matter. Also, he’s aware that Vashon is experiencing two classic problems associated with public trash cans.

Inappropriate Dumping. This is the bane of the public trash can world, and Vashon is no exception. Our refurbished cans are even more vulnerable to this unwanted behavior, as the round, domed lids have huge openings and are unattached to the can itself. Remove the lightweight plastic top, drop in your old engine oil, car parts, paint supplies, insecticides, or simple household garbage, and off you go. See photos below.

Trash can overflow. Overflowing trash cans make our streets look far more trashy (not less). One of several business owners interviewed emphasized that asking employees to deal with public trash cans on the roadside is too much. However, this January, frustrated business owners gave in to necessity, carting away several bags of trash piling up around the can directly in front of the Pharmacy, as it was an ugly eyesore for close to two weeks and the wind was constantly blowing loose trash down the sidewalk. The prevailing attitude amongst business owners seems to be, “I don’t think we need them, but I’m not entirely against them, so long as they are managed well and emptied frequently.”

Shawn Hoffman, current owner of Vashon Market (IGA), brought a lifetime of experience to our conversation about the new public trash cans. “If you have to pick up a few pieces of trash or sweep in front of your store each morning, that’s just part of doing business.” Shawn also described trash cans lids used in big cities, attached to the can with small, round holes that allow for cups, bottles, and small bits of trash – while preventing household garbage or other inappropriate dumping.

Shawn’s ideas remind us that public outreach and the inclusion of many voices results in far better outcomes. Next month’s article will dig deep into a growing trash pile of ideas, many of which make a lot of sense.

We, the residents of Vashon-Maury Island have the answers to these questions. And the King County Department of Local Services wants to hear from us. Contact David Daw, External Relations Manager, (ddaw@kingcounty.gov) during February and Bong Sto. Domingo, Community Liaison, (bong.stodomingo@kingcounty.gov) beginning in March.

Trash can in front of VCA
February 9, 2024

About Author

March Twisdale

march March Twisdale has called Vashon Island home for nearly twenty years. A lifelong advocate of independent thought, March believes there are as many right choices as there are people in the world. She looks forward to bringing inspiring content to Vashon Loop readers, as she's done for eight years with her radio show - Prose, Poetry & Purpose. Find her on Substack.com by searching "Our Thoughts Matter."