Seattle May Ban Paper from Commercial Waste

TO BOOST SEATTLE'S recycling rate and convince commercial waste generators to adopt the practices of residents, Mayor Greg Nickels has proposed legislation that would penalize businesses for mixing paper and yard waste with their garbage.

Currently, large businesses must contract with collection companies for waste and recycling. Residential curbside recycling services are “free” to single-family dwellings, and residential collection fees for garbage have not changed in more than 10 years. So to help businesses comply with the proposed ban, the city would extend the residential curbside program to all businesses during the next couple of years.

The city has kept collection rates low because Seattle makes money off of its recyclables, according to Seattle Public Utilities spokeswoman Susan Stoltzfus. However, the commercial sector is holding the city back from achieving a higher diversion rate.

“We have a goal of recycling 60 percent of commercial and residential waste combined,” Stoltzfus says. “Right now, it's under 40 percent. [Residential] is at 57 percent; the problem is commercial, which is about 37 percent of its waste.” A recent waste study showed that 30 percent of the city's commercial waste is paper.

If the legislation passes, by 2006, commercial and multi-family customers would receive two warnings for mixing yard waste and paper with trash, and then face fines up to $50. Single-family residents would not be fined, but trash collection would be delayed until recyclables are removed.

This would not pose a public health hazard because city law forbids trash containers to remain on the curb 24 hours after a scheduled collection time, Stoltzfus says. Residents must bring the trash back inside their homes or to wherever they store it.

City collection costs are based on container size, so delaying pickup by not complying with the ban would also result in extra charges the following week when customers exceed their weekly amount of garbage. The mayor also has proposed to ban bottles and cans from residential trash.