Seattle is trying to boost recycling, already popular here, by making it mandatory. That has been done elsewhere, with varying levels of enforcement and success.
Taking the lid off a trash can on one of his routes, Seattle garbage hauler Frank Treto quickly spotted enough junk mail and cardboard to warrant whipping out a bright-yellow warning tag.
He’s left hundreds of notices reminding residents of the city’s new mandatory-recycling law since it took effect at the start of the year.
Some days, he’s run out of tags, but one recent morning, he had to leave only a handful on his route through a stretch of the Ballard neighborhood, a sign that people are getting the hang of the new rules.
So far, no one’s given him any grief. “Not yet,” he said. “I’m looking forward to that. I’m going to see if I can get a bulletproof vest.”
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Seattle has had ample reason to brag about its recycling program over the years, but in recent years, as more people and businesses have moved in, its recycling rate has dipped below 40 percent, down from a peak of 44 percent in 1995.
Most cities would probably envy that rate. It’s well above the national average of about 27 percent, according to the “State of Garbage in America,” a report published last year by Biocycle, a recycling journal. But it’s far from Seattle’s goal of keeping 60 percent of its waste out of landfills by the end of the decade.
Eager to turn things around, the City Council passed a mandatory-recycling law that took effect Jan. 1. No one’s getting punished until next year, though.
The new law
Recycling became mandatory Jan. 1 for people living and working in Seattle. Here are the nuts and bolts of the new law:
Banned from trash: For houses, apartments and condos, banned are cardboard, glass, plastic bottles, jars, aluminum and tin cans, all types of paper (unless soiled), and yard debris, which has been banned from residential garbage since 1989. For businesses, it’s just paper, cardboard and yard debris.
The threshold: Trash cannot contain “significant amounts” of recyclables, which the city defines as more than 10 percent by volume, as determined by a garbage inspector.
The penalties: Only “educational tagging” in 2005. In 2006, single-family homes won’t get their garbage picked up until they comply. Apartments, condos and businesses will face $50 fines after up to two warning notices.
Exceptions: Businesses, apartments or condos that show Seattle Public Utilities they don’t have enough space for recycling bins. Also, public trash bins, such as those at bus stops.
Questions? 206-RECYCLE (206-732-9253) or www.ci.seattle.wa.us/util/Services/
Business recycling help: www.resourceventure.org
Source: Seattle Public Utilities
The Associated Press
Inspectors are spending the rest of this year showing homeowners, condo dwellers, apartment managers and businesspeople how to stay out of trouble.
Next year, people in single-family homes won’t get their trash picked up if they dump “significant amounts” of recyclables in their trash, defined by the city as more than 10 percent by volume. Owners of apartments, condominiums and businesses will face $50 fines.
So far, city officials say, few people have complained. Most calls have come from people wondering how to comply with the new standards, not complaining that the new mandates are too heavy-handed.
“When you tell them what the story is, they say, ‘Oh, OK,’ ” said Tim Croll, community-services director for Seattle Public Utilities, which runs the city’s garbage and recycling systems.
The city has budgeted $1.5 million for a three-year education push that began last year. The campaign includes mailers, how-to kits, a recycling hotline and friendly warning tags that open with “Why waste a good thing?”
Mandatory recycling is not a new concept. Some cities, like Madison, Wis., and several states in the Northeast have required it for more than a decade, with varying degrees of success.
Madison, a liberal college town that embraced recycling enthusiastically, has never imposed a fine since it mandated recycling in 1991.
“Seventy percent of the population is going to walk across a bed of hot coals to recycle a bottle. They just do that. They believe in it,” said George Dreckmann, the city’s recycling coordinator.
It’s not that everyone follows the rules. But so many do — well above 90 percent — that Dreckmann said it just doesn’t make sense economically or practically to go after every last violator.
Recycling has been mandatory in Connecticut since 1991, too. Requirements vary from city to city, and enforcement has been the biggest challenge, said Judy Beleval, an environmental analyst with the state’s Department of Environmental Protection.
“Some towns are good at it. Some towns are not so good at it,” Beleval said. “In the beginning, most towns had a recycling coordinator. Over the years, because of budget cuts, that became the job of someone who was also doing 10 other things.”
Frank Gagliardo oversees recycling enforcement for 169 cities and towns, home to 3.5 million people, for the Connecticut agency. “We sort of have to pick and choose our battles,” he said.
Last summer, Pittsburgh started fining residents who weren’t complying with a mandatory-recycling law enacted in 1988 for large communities in Pennsylvania. As of late January, the city had issued about 660 tickets at $62.50 a pop. So far, no one’s gotten a second fine, a whopping $500.
“Every time someone calls and complains about the citation, they say, ‘Well, I didn’t think you were serious,’ ” said Guy Costa, Pittsburgh’s public-works director. “Now they’re beginning to take us more seriously.”
Biggest problem: paper
In 1989, Seattle became one of the first cities in the country to start curbside pickup of newspaper, cardboard, aluminum cans, glass bottles, even office paper. Today, recycling bins are usually as easy to find as garbage cans in airport terminals, shopping malls and most public places.
Paper is the city’s biggest recycling problem. In recent years, an annual 72,000 tons of paper have been shipped to an Eastern Oregon landfill, where the city’s trash goes. Industry experts say that’s equivalent to more than 1.2 million trees, according to Brett Stav, a Seattle Public Utilities spokesman.
More than half of the paper that’s thrown away comes from businesses, which tend to recycle much less than households do. With help from a Chamber of Commerce group called Resource Venture, the city is tailoring much of its education drive toward the commercial sector.
Many businesses stand to save big bucks, since it costs about $50 a ton to send trash to the landfill and only $30 a ton to recycle.
Steven Nyquist, food and beverage director at the Silver Cloud Inn’s Cayenne Bar and Grill, thinks recycling will cut his $2,000 monthly garbage bill in half.
“Personally, I think it’s about time,” Nyquist said. “This is just something you’ve got to embrace. One, it’s the law. Two, it’s the right thing to do.”