Eco-City Seattle's Recycling and Composting Program Scales New Heights

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According to the City of Seattle’s annual recycling report, released yesterday, the amount of Seattle’s solid waste diverted from the landfill and into recycling and composting rose, for the seventh straight year. In 2010 it rose by 2.6 percent to an all-time high of 53.7% (the national average is 32.1%) while individual families were diverting wastes at 70.3%.

Mayor Mike McGinn congratulates the City by saying:

“Seattle’s businesses and residents deserve a standing ovation for their steadfast commitment to recycling and composting. Their efforts have made Seattle one of the most environmentally friendly cities in the nation.”

Seattle’s goal is to divert 60 percent of its municipal solid waste to recycling and composting by the year 2012, and 70 percent diversion by 2025.

But all these successes didn’t come overnight or by fluke. Recycling and composting programs were developed and improved, making it easier on residents to do their part. Starting 2009, Seattle Public Utilities allowed more items to be recycled and composted and made it easier for residents to participate through weekly collection of organics, as well as commingling of all recyclables into one cart. Also all information is clearly communicated to residents and businesses thorough their website.

This year, Seattle launched several waste reduction initiatives, including mandatory food waste collection service for apartments and condominiums, as well as a new phone book opt-out system, which allows businesses and residents to choose which yellow pages phone books they want to receive and which ones they dont want.

This food and yard collection service is a key feature of the program. According to Seattle Public Utilities’ excellent website:

Seattle’s food and yard waste collection service reduces garbage, saves landfill space, and reduces landfill methane (a potent greenhouse gas). The collected materials are processed into compost and used on local parks and gardens. Food and yard waste service is required for all single-family households. Residents can opt out if they compost at home. Yard debris – such as leaves, grass, and plant trimmings – are not allowed in your garbage.

In addition, the City of Seattle requiring all food service businesses to find packaging alternatives to throw-away food service containers, cups and other products has helped reduce landfill trash. Since July 1, 2010, all food service products designed for one-time-use were replaced with one-time use products that are either compostable or recyclable.

Another motivational factor was just plain economics. Seattle disposes its waste into a landfill in Arlington, Oregon. In addition to larger environmental impacts, it costs Seattle nearly twice as much to send material to the landfill, nearly 300 miles away, than to recycle it.

Moreover, all residents within the City of Seattle are required by the Seattle Municipal Code to have garbage containers and pay for garbage service. Yes! You heard me right. Pay. Simple logic: The more you recycle and the more food waste you put in your food/yard waste cart, the smaller your garbage can you will need, and the lower the rate. Sounds motivational enough to me.

This is unheard of where I live, where trash is picked up twice a week and recycle goes out once a week. The size of the trash can provided to us can fit two of me comfortably and the recycle bin is so small that we actually bought 2 additional ones.

Seattle’s waste prevention program can be a model to many cities, but only if they are watching and listening. Kudos to Seattle!

About the Author

Hi there! I am Priti and I specialize in strategy and communications for impact organizations that aim to create social, environmental and economic wealth for all stakeholders. Working from the ground up, I help these do-gooders craft effective programs for community engagement, outreach and profitability. Follow my work covering do-gooders, cleanweb, start-ups and Web 2.0 businesses on Ecopreneurist and at Crowdsourcing Week. I enjoy traveling with my boys, cooking up a gourmet meal from scratch and entertaining! Join my community for Social Entrepreneurs on G+ Follow me on Twitter, on LinkedIn and Google+
  • Using City of Seattle’s numbers, requiring phone book optout saved only 150 tons of total waste in its stream of 335,570 tons. That’s .0447%. All this hoppla for less a tenth of a percent. That’s sad and a real waste of tax payer money. City should be more focused about the other 99.95% that doesn’t help small business commerce in the city

    • You’d rather keep making buggy whips? Phone books are a completely obsolete item. The public doesn’t want ’em. See, there’s this thing called a search engine. The small businessman/woman would do well to march forward, and invest their money where the people are.

  • That’s the way to go Seattle. But you are still behind… In Germany for example this is pretty much standard for a long time already!

    It’s sad to see that you are leading and not one of many.

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