In the Spotlight

CleanScapes: Meeting the Challenge of Achieving Zero Waste

Working with the business community and neighborhood community councils, CleanScapes has developed program that meets waste reduction and community revitalization goals.

CleanScapes (Seattle, WA) was founded in 1997 by Chris Martin, a resident of Seattle’s Pioneer Square neighborhood, who was fed up with looking out his window at an alley that was filthy by day and a free fire zone for illegal activity by night. He took his frustration, with a system that didn’t support clean and safe neighborhoods, and funneled it into creating a company that would transform his neighborhood, and ultimately how garbage, recycling and yard waste in downtown Seattle is collected.

After establishing CleanScapes as a commercial cleaning company, in 2000, Martin developed and piloted the innovative Clear Alley Program (CAP) to improve safety in the historic Pioneer Square district of Seattle. CleanScapes CAP customers voluntarily removed dumpsters from alleys, replacing them with daily bag pickup service. Instead of overflowing dumpsters providing cover for criminal activity, Pioneer Square alleys were returned to their intended pedestrian and utilitarian uses. CleanScapes also worked with the City Council, Seattle Public Utilities and the Pioneer Square community to develop the Pioneer Square CAP program. As the program grew, other neighborhoods became interested in CAP and CleanScapses expanded the voluntary program to the neighborhoods of Capitol Hill, the University District and Columbia City.

The CAP pay-by-the-bag system helped smart customers reduce waste and cut costs. The success of CAP inspired Mayor Greg Nickels and Seattle Public Utilities to build a mandatory dumpster free alleys program into the garbage contracts that went out to bid in 2008.

When CleanScapes won half of the City contract, the City included a provision mandating that in the downtown commercial core, and the neighborhoods of Belltown and Pioneer Square all dumpsters must be removed from the public right-of-way. On April 1, 2009 CleanScapes took over the solid waste contract for half of the City of Seattle, and removed approximately 500 commercial dumpster from downtown, Belltown and Pioneer Square in the first few nights.

Today, CleanScapes has approximately 260 employees and proudly provides solid waste, yard waste and recycling collection, as well as StreetScape operations which provide pressure washing, litter control, and graffiti removal services. With more than 70,000 residential and 8,000 commercial customers, the company’s overriding focus is on municipalities, helping them to meet their community goals. The CAP program is an example of CleanScapes working with the business community, and neighborhood community councils to develop a program that meets waste reduction and community revitalization goals. “We work with municipalities to determine the services they need through extensive outreach and education efforts such as meeting with chambers of commerce and community councils and provide exemplary customer service, holding ourselves accountable through measured outcomes,” says Chris Martin, President of CleanScapes.

Implementing High Service Levels

While the overall tonnage of all commodities has been down over the past year in all of the jurisdictions that CleanScapes serves, fortunately,Martin notes, it has not had any impact on CleanScapes’ business. In fact, in July 2010, CleanScapes was ranked number 247 among the 500 fastest growing companies in the U.S., and number one in the environmental sector based on revenue growth over the preceding two years, according to Inc Magazine.

One reason could be that during an 18-month period between 2008 and 2009, CleanScapes successfully planned and completed two municipal solid waste contract transitions—the cities of Shoreline (2008) and Seattle (2009). Although, CleanScapes faced challenges with both contract transitions, such as a not receiving keys for commercial and multifamily accounts, limiting access to dumpsters and delaying collections, within a matter of weeks service for both cities was at, or exceeding, city performance standards. Says Martin, “We are very proud of the quality of service we provide. Since taking over these contracts both cities have enjoyed exemplary service, exceeding contract performance standards.” Between the two contracts, CleanScapes took over service for more than 70,000 residential and 8,000 commercial customers, with the Seattle contract transition being among the largest single contract transitions in the U.S.

For Martin, the most successful part of this transition was the launch of the solid waste, yard waste and recycling hauling contract for the City of Seattle. “This was a major accomplishment for CleanScapes,” he stresses. “We took over approximately 60,000 residential accounts and 7,000 commercial accounts from two incumbent contractors. The City of Seattle contract required that 65 percent of the residential collection fleet be fueled by CNG. In order to successfully implement this we had to acquire a completely new Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) residential collection fleet and construct a fueling station.” To do so, CleanScapes partnered with CleanEnergy and Puget Sound Energy to run a gas pipeline to their operations yard and build a CNG pump and fueling station.

In addition, CleanScapes also had to import huge amounts of customer billing data into their computer system, acquire accurate GIS data and develop new routes. Additionally, they hired and trained approximately 160 new collection drivers, the majority of which were displaced workers who had been in the employ of one of the previous contractors. A condition of the contract with the City of Seattle was that displaced workers be given hiring preference. Moreover, because they had experience working within the City of Seattle, knew the routes and the geography of the City, they were excellent candidates to fill positions. As a result, they received training on safety and standard operating procedures, routing software and internal CleanScapes policies.

Concurrent with the Seattle’s contract transition, CleanScapes was also the lead contractor implementing the city’s new CAP Program, which required CleanScapes to remove more than 500 dumpsters from alleys in the city’s downtown commercial core, and implement a pay-as-you throw bag service. “We were able to accomplish all of this, and overcome significant challenges in the first few weeks. Currently, we are providing the City of Seattle with some of the highest service levels they have seen in the history of the solid waste utility,” says Martin.

Reaching Out

With the emphasis on achieving zero waste in jurisdictions across the country, according to Martinthe biggest challenge facing the industry is reducing the overall waste stream, rather than simply diverting recyclable materials and organics. “People have learned to recycle, and, increasingly, recycling is relatively easy with the prevalence of comingled, curbside recycling. However, we want to help people reduce the overall amount of material they dispose of by helping them to reduce all of the commodities they generate,” he stresses. “So we provide resources to help people cancel junk mail, cancel phone books and do simple things like use reusable water bottles, coffee cups and hand towels. The average household generates enormous amounts of recyclables and garbage in the form of plastic bottles, cups and used paper towels.”

CleanScapes is uniquely positioned to meet the challenge of achieving zero waste, as they have a team of outreach and education staff dedicated to going out into the communities served and helping people reduce, reuse and recycle. With a highly educated and trained staff, CleanScapes goes out to local schools, attends community council, chamber of commerce meetings and other community forums to educate people about recycling and waste reduction. This staff also provides free and paid waste audits, where they will go through the waste stream from a commercial customer and provide them with recommendations on how they can increase diversion.

Also, in 2010, CleanScapes launched a Neighborhood Waste Reduction Rewards program, which gives neighborhoods that have the highest waste reduction a $50,000 community development project, like a playground or community park.Conceived by Martin and developed to emphasize waste reduction, CleanScapes’ outreach and education staff conducted dozens of community meetings and forums to promote waste reduction and educate people about the program over a period of six months. The winning Seattle neighborhood reduced their waste by 19 percent, and they are currently working with CleanScapes’ staff to select a project to be developed. Being an annual program, the next round of community outreach in Seattle and Shoreline is currently in process.

In addition, CleanScapes is very involved in supporting the communities served. They are a major supporter of the Duwamish River Clean-up Coalition, Cascade Land Conservancy, and Sustainable Shoreline and SolarFest. CleanScapes also has received a New Directions for Livable Communities award from the Cascade Land Conservancy in 2010 for the Neighborhood Waste Reduction Reward Program and a Innovation Award from the International Downtown Association for the Clear Alley Program.

And that’s not all. At CleanScapes a major part of the brand is having clean and well-maintained trucks. However, keeping garbage trucks clean requires frequent washing. To mitigate the environmental impacts of truck washing, CleanScapes use a service that captures and reuses all of the water from our truck washing operation. “Additionally, we use reused office equipment and recycled materials, like recycled carpet tiles, wherever possible in our offices,” says Martin.

With the advantage of having a newly remodeled yard, operations and maintenance facility and fleet, meeting government standards and regulations has not been a challenge. “We are proud of our record with respect to compliance with all governmental standards and regulations,” says Martin. “If we are going to achieve the goal of zero waste, then we need innovative programs like the Neighborhood Waste Reduction Rewards, which focus on reducing all waste streams, rather than just rewarding people for recycling more.”

For more information about CleanScapes, contact John Taylor, Government Relations Manager, at (206) 658-4075, via e-mail at [email protected] or visit the Web site at

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