Tourism and trash: Placer County, Truckee increase garbage service to mitigate impact of more visitors

Rebecca O’Neil
Special to the Sierra Sun

Protesters lined roadsides around Lake Tahoe and Truckee to call on those in bumper-to-bumper traffic to cease and desist littering — and visiting — over the weekend, holding signs to deliver their messages:

“Tourists Go Away: Over Tourism Destroying Tahoe.”

“Our kids can’t go back to school because you can’t stay home.”

And “Stop Littering.”

“I think those of us that choose to live in Lake Tahoe and the Truckee region make a very conscious choice to live in a community where we care very much about our environment and our recreation.”— Cindy GustafsonPlacer County supervisor

Placer County Supervisor Cindy Gustafson said concerns about tourism are nothing new, but given 2020’s merciless tenor, tolerance is at an all-time low.

“People didn’t seem to want it, and that’s been a sentiment in the community for a long time,” Gustafson said. “I think this year a lot of factors have come together to exacerbate that, certainly COVID and restrictions have created even greater division in our community — politically and as it relates to tourism.”

Gustafson affirmed the uptick in tourists, and their perceived negligence by some of North Lake Tahoe’s permanent residents, are not responsible for school or restaurant closures.

“Our caseload in eastern Placer County area of COVID is relatively stable, and has remained relatively stable throughout the summer months,” Gustafson said. “The concerns about schools and restaurants have been statewide, countywide.”

Counter to the perceived risk, Placer County came off the monitoring list Tuesday, Gustafson said, giving schools the option to reopen their physical locations in two weeks if they so choose.

Gustafson said the abuse of public lands via litter is hardly isolated to the Tahoe experience — “It’s what started the Adopt-a-Highway program.”— but affirmed that the volume of waste has increased and, with it, the public’s concern.

Gustafson shares that concern. Placer County’s District 5 Supervisor said when she finds waste left adjacent to appropriate receptacles rather than inside of them, she is perplexed. Even then, Gustafson said she tries to take on a sympathetic mindset.

“I try to wonder what they were thinking,” Gustafson said. “Were they thinking they were littering, or that someone was coming to pick it up soon? They didn’t leave it on a picnic table and many of the images that have been sent to me have been garbage left near cans.”


That specific kind of garbage is why the Town of Truckee invested in solar-powered trash compactors, said Deverie Acuff, support services manager and public information officer for the Truckee Police Department.

“Those are a huge help because they can hold more and, because it sits directly on concrete, no trash can escape underneath,” Acuff said.

Acuff said the town pays for the maximum amount of commercial pickup that is offered by Tahoe Truckee Sierra Disposal — five days a week. Placer County has also temporarily increased trash service in North Lake Tahoe. The increase in service started Aug. 7, adding three additional trash bins in Kings Beach and additional trash pickup service in Tahoe City.

Gustafson theorized that the increase in local waste is not just coming from visitors. Some locals may not realize how and when trash is picked up.

Further, given COVID-19 restrictions, takeout has increased across the city, as well as the disposal of single-use containers and PPE, Gustafson said.

“Restaurants don’t have the capacity and a lot of people are taking food to-go,” Gustafson said.

She said businesses might consider using compostable containers, but appreciates the financial burden that may place on businesses already struggling to stay afloat.

“These poor businesses have been opened and closed and reopened,” Gustafson said. “But I think we’d be interested in encouraging compostable containers. We’re all trying to be more environmentally aware.”

Gustafson hopes coordinated clean-up efforts — volunteer and government-funded — might also help her constituents focus more on educating visitors rather than condemning them.

“We all need compassion for our mental and physical health,” Gustafson said.

Further, Gustafson said permanent residents may rest assured that the revenues received from tourism far surpass the additional cost of trash pickup.

“Forty percent of the Transient Occupancy Tax goes into the county’s overall administration costs,” Gustafson said. “That’s upwards of $10-$12 million.”


Acuff said her department and the Town of Truckee at large is coordinating community outreach to target trashed hot-spots and optimize efforts to clean up and educate.

“We’re trying to narrow down our focus with community outreach to connect with community members who may see something that we’re not seeing, like a specific trail that has more garbage,” Acuff said.

Acuff said the Town of Truckee is working to create more robust waste removal and litter prevention programs.

Acuff said the Public Works staff do patrols regularly, and rotate cleanup focal points — including various roundabouts throughout the area, as well as the main Legacy Trail that goes from Glenshire into town.

Those efforts, Acuff said, extend to identifying land that does not belong to Truckee, and offering maintenance assistance.

“We hope to identify plots of land that aren’t ours and help take care of them,” Acuff said.

According to Gustafson, providing a cultural education that promotes a deeper understanding of humans’ roles as stewards of the outdoors is an essential component of addressing pollution in Tahoe.

“I think those of us that choose to live in Lake Tahoe and the Truckee region make a very conscious choice to live in a community where we care very much about our environment and our recreation,” Gustafson said. “This is not an easy place to live: you don’t make the most money but you do make a lifestyle choice.”

Gustafson said a compassionate approach may help day-trippers or overnighters to understand how precious Tahoe’s granite, pines, rivers and ponds are.

“Not everyone has the same background or understanding of their environment, or the culture around here,” Gustafson said. “Not everyone has had the same opportunities or education.”

Rebecca O’Neil is a reporter for The Union, a sister publication of the Sierra Sun based in Grass Valley. Contact her at

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