Global economic factors are forcing Tacoma to re-examine how best to deal with the garbage and recyclable materials generated by residents. For years, Tacoma residents have thrown their trash in green bins, yard waste and food scraps in brown bins, most recyclable materials in blue bins, and glass bottles in a small blue box. Much of the recyclable material has been getting shipped to China, which has implemented new standards on what it will accept.
Tacoma City Council and city staff have been examining how best to proceed with the recycling program. They held a discussion on the topic during the Aug. 13 study session. The presenters were Lewis Griffith, division manager of Solid Waste Management in the city’s Environmental Services Department; Preston Peck, a project specialist in the department; and Mike Slevin, director of the department.
They explained how a global shift in the recycling market that began last year has increased the city’s costs to process co-mingled recycling by $1.9 million a year. The costs have increased to meet lower contamination limits. Shipping costs have increased, and the recycled commodities market is poor due to decreased demand for the end product.
Other jurisdictions have increased the rates they charge to customers. The average increase for Pierce County is $3.56 a month, while in Kitsap County the average increase is $3.26 a month, and $3.61 a month for King County.
Staff is recommending that the city maintain the co-mingled recycling, while adding a surcharge to cover increased costs. The details of how much the increase would be are still being worked out. One recommendation is to increase costs by $1 per month per customer, which would raise $1.2 million over two years. Some of the money would be allocated toward public education efforts, which could include paid advertising in local media outlets and having city staff at information tables at public events.
The main change customers will experience is that no one will come to their homes or businesses to haul away glass bottles. The city plans to have several locations around the city where people could take their bottles. “This will be the biggest impact on citizens,” Councilmember Conor McCarthy observed. He said some residents might haul their bottles to such a location while out running errands, but he noted some would likely go back to throwing empty bottles in the green garbage bin.
The staff was asked about the environmental impact of bottles ending up in the landfill. Slevin said the city had to do this for a while a few years ago, when the market for glass was flat. Griffith said that glass in a landfill does not pose any significant problem. He estimated that currently, about 1 or 2 percent of material that goes to the landfill is glass.
Griffith noted the staff has done considerable outreach to the public, including surveys. He said the staff recommendation “seems to be what the community wants.”
The council is expected to make a decision on the topic in October.