With that and a sharp blow of the whistle from referee Tom Watson, three three-person teams dove into 75-households-worth of garbage sitting in the middle of a street in the Seattle suburb of Kent in a race to see who could properly sort the most waste. Watson, whose day job involves serving as project manager for the King County Solid Waste Division, monitored contestants as they used shopping carts to shuttle waste from the pile to a staging area where it was hurriedly separated into barrels marked for recyclables, organic waste and trash. The team with the most recyclables and organic waste by weight at the end of 10 minutes would be named the winner.
The race was the latest in a series of annual publicity stunts staged by King County to draw attention to recycling. “The three points we're trying to make are that recycling is easy, recycling is fun and that we can all do a better job of recycling,” says Watson, who estimates King County's recycling rate at around 35 percent, or 50 percent including organic waste. Last year, the company had several Seattle-area families compete to see who could reduce their household waste the most in a month.
Carrie Fjeld, Maria Garcia and Dawn Hardley, co-workers at Seattle property management firm Bell-Anderson & Associates, took this year's prize, amassing 132 pounds of recyclables. The team had prepared in advance by studying a handout detailing what recyclables King County accepts in each category. By the end of the relay, they had abandoned their shopping cart in favor of sprinting with armloads of recyclables. “They were really into it,” says Watson. “They had t-shirts and everything. They had a coach. They were really, really enthusiastic.”
Watson showed similar enthusiasm, sourcing his own referee shirt. “There's a woman here in our office who's actually a college basketball referee, and she gave me her professional whistle, which was really loud,” beams Watson. “It was a top-of-the-line whistle.”
The commitment to showmanship paid off, as two local television stations, two radio stations and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer gave the event extensive media coverage. Watson says he hopes all of the hoopla gets people's attention.
“The real motivation for this is we are a really large county in population, and we have eight transfer stations and our own landfill,” says Watson. “Even with the great job that our residents do of recycling and our high recycling rate, more than half of the garbage that goes into our landfill is recyclable. That's the point that we made. There's still a lot more that people could do.”