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Bellingham
Saturday, October 24, 2020

Kicked to the curb

Couch in an abandoned lot on High Street Tuesday, March 28. // Photo by Eythan Frost

Abandoned microwaves. // Photo by Kirstyn Nyswonger

Cluttered debris. // Photo by Kirstyn Nyswonger

As the days grow longer and spring flowers begin to bloom, many Bellingham residents become motivated to clear their homes and apartments of the clutter that has gathered over the winter months.

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Spring cleaning, however, often leaves the sidewalks near Western littered with items too large to be disposed of properly. Community and campus groups are working to keep couches, mattresses and appliances from being left out on the sidewalk.

The Campus Community Coalition is a task force composed of partners both on and off campus with the goal of promoting positive relationships between students and the Bellingham community, coordinator Julia Burns said.

Burns said they take the issue of abandoned furniture very seriously.

“Of all the complaints we get from the community, litter and garbage is the number one thing,” Burns said.

Burns said the Campus Community Coalition works with the Office of Sustainability to sponsor Move-Out Madness, an event where large dumpsters are placed in the York, Sehome and Happy Valley neighborhoods. The event provides students with an opportunity to correctly dispose of any unwanted household items, free of charge.

Move-Out Madness is scheduled for June 16, with dumpsters located at Franklin Park, Laurel Park and the gravel lot on 26th and Douglas. Burns said this year they plan on hiring students with trucks to provide affordable transportation of large items like couches.

The York Neighborhood Association has taken the cleanliness of their neighborhood into their own hands by providing residents with their own Dumpster Day. Neighborhood association secretary Anne Mackie said the neighborhood has organized a cleanup day in June every year for over 35 years.

“It’s a lot of work for our neighborhood volunteers, but we do it every year because this  stuff just can’t be allowed to accumulate,” Mackie said. 

She said some people leave items on the sidewalk with good intentions, hoping they will be reused by another resident.

“The tenants think it’s okay to dump this stuff, and I think those rental owners, the landlords, should be held responsible,” Mackie said. “ Then they would hold their tenants responsible and we could start to correct the problem.”

Mackie said household items left on the sidewalk get rained on and are often left there to be dealt with by the city.

Dan Larsen, the street department supervisor for the City of Bellingham, said his department receives a large number of calls concerning sofas, chairs, fridges and other large items when school lets out for the year.

“During those times I will have a two-man crew with a truck out generally twice a week to run the college route and pick up trash,” Larsen said in an email.

Larsen does not believe this practice is a valid use of the department’s resources and there are more important issues the street department should focus on.

“Especially after our nasty winter this year, our roads have taken a large beating and need most of our resources and attention,” Larsen said.

Mackie said leaving unwanted items on the sidewalk has become a social norm in the community and residents think that when they leave something outside on the curb, the city will come get it for free. 

“The problem is, as a taxpayer, as a property owner, I am paying for that removal and it is costing the city quite a lot of money,” Mackie said.

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