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San Diego Trash Cleanup Hits 500-Ton Milestone

A San Diego city worker cleans up trash along the San Diego River, Dec. 13, 2...

Photo by Susan Murphy

Above: A San Diego city worker cleans up trash along the San Diego River, Dec. 13, 2017.

San Diego city workers, dressed in hazmat suits and armed with rakes and trash bags, have spent the past seven months clearing away trash and debris from river beds, streets and alleyways as part of the Clean SD initiative.

“So we are well over 500 tons of waste that has been removed throughout the city of San Diego since September of 2017," said Mario Sierra, director of the city’s Environmental Services Department.

Collected waste includes 1,200 shopping carts and more than 3,100 mattresses and box springs.

“The waste abatements we’ve performed tend to be associated with homeless encampments,” Sierra said. “That’s typically left behind as we conduct our waste abatements.”

Homeless people have long been drawn to the 52-mile-long river’s edge for its seclusion, living in makeshift encampments that overflow with trash. Hundreds of other homeless people had set up tents on sidewalks in the East Village or hunkered down in parks and canyons.

“We have actually removed approximately 98 tons of waste from the San Diego River and 29 tons of waste from Chollas Creek,” Sierra said. “ And we’ve also removed about 300 tons in other areas throughout the city of San Diego.”

Cleanups have always taken place, he said, but the squalid living is no longer tolerated. The city’s aggressive crackdown following a hepatitis A outbreak has made a big difference in trash collection, he said.

“If you were to compare us to where we were a year ago, we’re actually collecting less amount of waste in some of the hot spots that used to be around the city of San Diego,” he said.

The city has also adopted safeguards following an incident in December when crews accidentally scooped a homeless person into a garbage truck. A supervisor now oversees every abatement.

“We now have a form that the code compliance officers utilize to keep track of who’s participating, what items are being collected, which ones are being disposed of,” he said.

The next phase of the cleanup effort involves asking property owners who live along the river to do their part to clear trash and debris. The city has sent letters to each of the 33 private owners who combined own nearly one-third of the property along the river, offering one-time cleanup assistance.

City workers, dressed in hazmat suits and armed with rakes and trash bags, have spent the past seven months clearing away trash and debris from river beds, streets and alleyways as part of the Clean San Diego initiative.

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