Archives Find of the Month: Trash Disposal in Early Seattle

Home » Archives Find of the Month: Trash Disposal in Early Seattle

SMA_871Disposal of garbage was a problem in Seattle’s early days, as the city’s population was growing while needed infrastructure was still evolving. In 1897, citizens living near a dump at 6th and Lane sent a petition to the Council stating that the site was “an intolerable nuisance, which is incompatible with the health and comfort of those residing in the vicinity.”

Responding to the complaints, the City Council’s Health and Sanitation Committee paid a visit to the landfill to see its operations in person. Compared to the city’s previous practice of “dumping in the Bay and littering the same, to be washed backward and forwards by the tides,” they found the dump’s method of burning and covering the trash to be preferable. They did, however, urge “all due caution” in preventing odors, writing that “at no time should the sun be allowed to shine upon the [trash] any longer than a man can cover up or burn it.” If these measures were observed, the committee believed the dump would “ultimately be a blessing rather than a curse to all parties concerned.”

However, in the ensuing two months, the Committee had received another petition complaining about the site, and at that point acknowledged the problem with dumping trash “so near dwelling houses.” They recommended that garbage be “taken farther out of the city and burned in a fenced place to prevent the above floating away by the tide.” City Engineer R.H. Thomson suggested a site on Railroad Avenue between Connecticut and Atlantic Streets for this purpose.

However, moving the dump further out did not eliminate complaints about garbage odors. By the following summer, there were enough protests about the smells from garbage wagons traveling through the city that the City Council passed Ordinance 4955, which ordained that “any wagon, cart or other conveyance used in the removal of swill within the City of Seattle shall have a tightly closed body, box or receptacle for the swill…to prevent the escape of any odor, or the escape or leakage of swill.” The ordinance also prohibited the transport of garbage except between the hours of 10:00 pm and 8:00 am.


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