The Third Option – Ownership of the Commons
Island Resilience, March 2024

The Third Option – Ownership of the Commons

By March Twisdale

Prior to moving to Vashon, my family helped develop a Cohousing Community in West Seattle. We lived there for four years. During that time, I fell in love with our Community Work Parties. Twice a year, all 23 families would set aside a weekend to work together to improve, beautify, and maintain our commons. Those days of camaraderie and shared effort felt great to me because I tend to feel a personal sense of ownership (read: responsibility) for the commons.

All of which brings us to the Trash Can Trial on Vashon Island. Thanks to the good folks at the Vashon Chamber, the Vashon-Maury Community Council, and King County Local Services, we’ve seen what happens when we attempt to pass off our responsibility to others, and it’s less than ideal.

Now, let’s add in Island values around energy conservation, personal responsibility, and ecological awareness. What do we teach our children? Clean up after yourself, right? Well, it’s our trash. We have a transfer station a mere five-minute drive away from Vashon uptown, open five days a week, with virtually no line. Island disposal also means no ferry fee, no ferry wait, and no excessive consumption of carbon-producing fuel by a county truck having to commute all the way here, to a distant city transfer station, and back to King County Local Services.

Maybe we could do a better job ourselves? Let’s pause and consider our demographics. On an island with 5,500 people over the age of 55, we have at least 3,000 solidly retired, still vibrant and healthy Islanders. Given this, how do we inspire and motivate people to return to what was normative in the past? Before “Big Government” said, we’ll do it all for you, people compared their towns and villages to others, resulting in a natural form of community competition that was later inculcated into government school sporting culture. Why do we cheer for the Pirates, and wish for them to win? It’s a form of “community pride,” or to put it another way, an extension of our “ownership of the commons.”

However, to be honest, trash is different. It’s dirty. Maybe stinky. Often, it’s on the ground. And if it’s a bag of someone else’s trash, it’s mysterious. And not in a good way. There is stigma attached to trash, which is why “trashy” is used to describe people in a negative way. Yet, we touch trash every day. When we take that last sip of our morning coffee and toss the cup (it becomes trash). When we crumple up a wrapper and drop it in a bin (it becomes trash). Not to mention, we all have close friends and family who empty trash at their place of work every day.

Here’s the challenge, Vashon Islanders. Can we live up to our bumper stickers and be “weird enough” to manage our own town’s trash on our own? Even better, can we make it fun? Yes, I think we can.

Imagine a monthly “Town Clean Up Party,” maybe on the morning of the last Friday of the month, so town is sparkly clean for First Friday? For two hours in the morning, anyone and everyone is invited to show up and form teams that will go out and clean specific sections of town. Bags, gloves, and pick-up tools could be provided by The Chamber of Commerce, along with drip coffee and simple snacks by a different “host” business each month. Of course, many clean-up crews will decide to order fancier drinks or grab lunch while in town, so on the whole, it’ll be a win for Island businesses.

These teams would be looking for all the trash that gets tossed under bushes, blows into corners, and otherwise shows up for unknown reasons. Friendly competition to see who comes in with the heaviest bag and other forms of “work party fun” will evolve naturally, and the stigma associated with bending down to pick up trash will be eliminated by a sense of camaraderie that normalizes the activity. What a great opportunity for families with homeschooled kids, high schoolers earning their community service hours, community-oriented senior citizens, and others to get together and experience the joys of a work party!

And, if we really want King County Local Services to help us out, then let’s ask for vouchers so we can dump our town trash for free at the Vashon Recycling and Transfer Station!

It’s obvious that the can mounted in front of the Vashon Center for the Arts is worse than unnecessary. It remains empty except for the people who regularly dump their household garbage, old paint supplies, mechanical trash, toxic waste, and other inappropriate junk. See the online version of this article for images of inappropriate dumping at the VCA in just the month of February alone.

As for the cans in town, since our article came out, they’ve remained almost entirely empty. Whether this is due to extra vigilance in an effort to make the Trash Can Trial look good, or simply due to the absolute lack of need for them during the winter months, is anyone’s guess. I remain of the opinion that we do not need these trash cans during the non-tourist season, making them both a waste of tax dollars and a persistent invitation for people to engage in illegal dumping.

Have ideas? King County Department of Local Services wants to hear from us. Contact Bong Santo Domingo ( You can also send your thoughts to the Vashon Loop (

Trash can in front of VCA. Photos taken in February.

In the trash can: Underneath a bag of trash.
Inside the bucket that was put in the trash can.
March 7, 2024

About Author

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 by searching "Our Thoughts Matter."