Seattle's Recycling Plan Gears Up To Help the Planet

Seattle's recycling plan to distribute 90,000 of its new yard-waste and food-scraps carts is halfway to its goal, with 45,000 of the large containers already out there.

SEATTLE — Seattle's recycling plan to distribute 90,000 of its new yard-waste and food-scraps carts is halfway to its goal, with 45,000 of the large containers already out there.

Under the plan, residents may put food scraps and food-soiled paper along with yard waste into the 96-gallon wheeled containers. For example, wet paper towels can now go into the yard-waste carts well as bread and cooked pasta. No meat or dairy products can go into the cart. Those items still go in your garbage bin.

The city, which is distributing carts neighborhood by neighborhood to residential subscribers, hopes to have all the carts delivered by the end of August.

The 45,000 containers yet to be delivered are headed to customers mostly south of the Ship Canal.

The carts will be collected every other week, year-round. A primary reason for the new carts is to lessen the lifting burden on garbage and recycling workers. The new containers are emptied by a hydraulic lift.

Kevin Watson has been collecting garbage, recyclables and yard waste for Waste Management for five years, lifting the heavy containers of weeds, branches and grass clippings into his truck. He has hurt his back doing so.

"This is a very, very big deal," said Watson, as he hooked up a yard-waste cart to the hydraulic lift this week in the Wedgwood neighborhood. "It's a little slower, but it saves back and shoulders and the fatigue factor is cut in half. It saves a lot of people from getting hurt."

Hans Van Dusen, solid-waste contracts manager, said Seattle was one of the only jurisdictions in the region that didn't have carts for yard waste.

"We wanted a safer way to collect yard waste," he said, adding that Bellevue and Kirkland already recycle food waste.

The carts are part of the city's recycling initiative, where it hopes that 60 percent of the city's waste eventually will be recycled. Today that number is about 40 percent, up from 20 percent in the early 1990s.

About 30 percent of residential trash is food and soiled paper, which can now be recycled. In comparison, it costs the city $50 a ton to dump its garbage at the Columbia Ridge Landfill in Arlington, Ore.

"This is a great resource," Van Dusen said. "It's cheaper to take this as compost than as garbage." He said anything cheaper than $50 a ton means the city is saving money. It costs the city $20 a ton on average to dispose of its recycling, but that depends on the market. Today, Van Dusen said, with clean plastic, newsprint and aluminum cans so valuable, the recycling cost is zero.

While the city is hoping to reach a 60 percent recycling goal, it won't get tough until next year. As of Jan. 1, all residents will be required to keep recyclables out of their garbage cans.

If a collector finds that more than 10 percent of the trash is recyclable, the can will be tagged so the homeowner will know he violated the law. Next year a violation will mean the garbage won't be collected. "We're not going to CAT-scan your garbage," said Croll, who added that it is up to the haulers to find violators.

QUESTION: What do you do with apple cores and other food waste you intend to recycle before you dump it in the can?
ANSWER: Tim Croll, director of community services with Seattle Public Utilities, suggested the waste be put in milk cartons and then dumped in the green bins, but food wastes also could be put into plastic containers and periodically emptied into the yard-waste container.

Q: Why not just put the food waste down a garbage disposal?
A: That can be done, Croll said, but recycling it might mean your sewer pipes will last longer and you'll save water by not flushing the waste down the disposal.

Q: What about the elderly who will have a hard time maneuvering these heavy containers?
A: The city said they can request smaller containers, 30- or 60-gallon ones, or ask that they be allowed to put out the smaller cans they've been using. Also, if someone can't physically bring a garbage or yard-waste can to the street, the city will evaluate to see if the customer qualifies for an exemption and will ask the collectors to fetch it from inside a yard.

Q: So what happens to all the food and yard waste that's hauled away?
A: The yard waste goes to Cedar Grove Composting in Maple Valley. The city pays Cedar Grove $23 a ton to dispose of the material, excluding labor. It costs the city about $40 a ton to dump the yard waste.

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Source: Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News