Seattle Mayor Ed Murray Friday shelved a plan for every-other-week garbage collection in the city after a less-than-enthusiastic reaction from customers participating in a pilot program.
Murray said the switch would create a hardship for some families and the estimated savings of 8 percent on bills wasn’t enough to justify cutting services by half. He said the city will look for other strategies to reduce the amount of recyclables and food waste going into landfills, one goal of the biweekly collection plan.
“Based on projections, we should be able to stay on track with our recycling goals without resorting to every-other-week garbage collections,” Murray said in a statement. “If that turns out not to be the case, we can always reassess.”
Former City Councilmember Richard Conlin had championed the plan as part of the city’s Zero Waste Initiative. He said that switching to every-other-week pickup could save the city about $6 million, reduce truck traffic, and incentivize recycling and food composting. Conlin lost a re-election bid in November.
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The pilot project did show a potential for the city to divert 9,000 tons annually of recyclables and food waste from landfills, as people became more selective about what was filling up their garbage cans.
But customer satisfaction with the pilot program was significantly lower than for weekly collection, according to Seattle Public Utilities (SPU), which manages the city’s solid-waste collection. The pilot program of 800 single-family households in four different parts of the city ran from July through December 2012.
“We advised the mayor that customers probably weren’t going to see this as a positive,” said Tim Croll, solid-waste director for the utility. “We knew from talking to people in advance that a lot were not excited.”
He added that a surprising number who participated in the pilot — one-third — opposed expanding the program citywide.
Satisfaction was lower for some demographics including low-income, larger households and households using diapers, as well as those in more racially diverse neighborhoods.
For example, in the Highland Park neighborhood of West Seattle and the Dunlap neighborhood in South Seattle, almost half of participants didn’t like the change.
Customers in those neighborhoods also complained about overflowing cans, more litter in the streets and more pests and rodents. And the utility said there was more contamination of recycling and compost bins as people looked for other places to dump uncollected trash.
In January, SPU’s Customer Review Panel recommended against taking the every-other-week program citywide.
Croll said the utility would explore stepping up recycling of construction debris, an initiative that he estimated would divert twice as much tonnage from landfills as the biweekly garbage pick up. Commercial users also are being asked to add glass and aluminum to their recycling requirements starting in July.
City Councilmember Sally Bagshaw, chair of the council Utility Committee, said the deciding factor for her in rejecting the proposed twice-a-month collection was the low return to ratepayers, as well as promising alternatives to boost recycling.
“Frankly, we would have a 50 percent reduction in service but not a 50 percent reduction in the bill,” Bagshaw said.
“We can increase our recycling and composting in other ways,” she said.
Lynn Thompson: 206-464-8305 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @lthompsontimes