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Ultra-green Seattle sorts through recycling options

SOURCE: REUTERS NEWS SERVICE:USA: January 14, 2003.


SEATTLE - Fourteen years after setting an ambitious goal to recycle 60% of its garbage by 2008, ultra-environmentally conscious Seattle is wondering whether it can finish the job - and what it would take.

With its recycling rate stalled at about 40 percent of its total trash haul, officials in the Emerald City, known for its lush urban landscaping and progressive politics, are acknowledging the plan may have been too optimistic.

"We are in middle of evaluating the target," said Tim Croll, director ofcommunity services for Seattle Public Utilities. "We will be making arecommendation (to the mayor and city council) about whether we stay with it or adjust it up or down or change the due date."

Seattle is already well ahead of the 30 percent U.S. national recyclingaverage. Its effort is bolstered by a population that eagerly sortsbottles,cans, paper and plastic bags to be hauled off for free and spins yard wasteinto garden gold in compost bins rather than paying for curbside removal.

But getting to 60 percent could mean sending another truck to pick up foodscraps - which make up about 20 percent of total waste - or offering freecurbside service to businesses, which now mostly use optional privaterecycling services.

Adding programs could raise costs, but Croll called money a minor factor. This contrasts with cities like New York, where Mayor Michael Bloomberg last year suspended glass and plastic recycling, saying that would help shrink a big budget hole.

Seattle's recycling costs typically rise when the economy weakens, cutting the price it gets for recycled paper, but the program still tends to make a small amount of money, offsetting small losses posted by the yard-wasteprogram.

"I don't think our decision is particularly budget related," Croll said."We've gone nearly 10 years without raising the single-can (trash pickup) rate."

Seattle residents pay small monthly fees for trash removal - the bigger the can, the higher the fee - plus optional charges for yard waste, which cannot be dumped with regular trash.

The city's 563,000 residents have embraced the system, which rewards recycling instead of imposing penalties for mixing recyclables with trash as many eastern U.S. cities do. Seattle's single-family homes are already at a 60 percent recycling rate and could go higher, Croll said.

REGIONAL DIFFERENCES
As the U.S. economy has slowed in recent years, cities around the nation are re-evaluating recycling programs, which often bring immediate costs while the benefits of cleaner air and water are harder to see.

In the Rocky Mountain region, where land is generally cheaper and populations more scattered, states recycled just 11 percent of solid waste produced in 2001, according to BioCycle Magazine, a recycling and composting journal.

The more crowded states in the Mid-Atlantic region, led by Delaware at 59 percent, topped the list at 40 percent on average, while the Midwest, West Coast and New England came in at 34 to 35 percent.

Connecticut, a small, densely packed and generally wealthy New England state, reported 100 percent of its residents had access to curbside recycling programs in 2001.

Behind Delaware, Arkansas recycled 45 percent of its trash, followed by Minnesota, New York, California and Maine which were all above 40 percent.

'PRETTY DARN GOOD'
In that context, Seattle draws high marks for its efforts, even if it falls short of its 60 percent goal.

"Seattle's 40 percent is pretty darn good. You pick your low-hanging fruit, but from there, it gets more complicated and sometimes costs go up dramatically," said Preston Read, director of environmental affairs for the National Soft Drink Association.

Beverage makers, which support curbside programs over the 5-cent a container-deposits some states use to encourage recycling, have drastically reduced the weight and materials used in plastic bottles and aluminum cans, lowering costs as well.

But as demand surges for recycled materials - used to make carpet, aluminum siding, tennis balls, asphalt, car parts and clothing as well as new cans and bottles - the soft drink industry hopes supply keeps pace, keeping its costs down.

"We are just one of many different competitors for that material .... So the more that gets collected, the more the price comes down," Read said.

Story by Chris Stetkiewicz

This article was kindly provided by ScoWaste a mailing list run by Sustainable Resource Management Services.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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