Food, Glorious Food

TO FATTEN ITS RECYCLING RATE, the Emerald City is turning to food. This fall, the Seattle City Council and Mayor Greg Nichols approved legislation that creates voluntary food waste recycling programs for residential and commercial properties. Both initiatives are slated to begin next year and should help the city reach its goal of a 60 percent recycling rate by 2015, says Tim Croll, community services director for Seattle Public Utilities.

Kate Krebs, the executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based based National Recycling Coalition (NRC), says environmental advocates are hoping that these programs and similar ones in California mark the beginning of a new trend.

The residential component of the food waste initiative will start next spring, when the city begins distributing new yard waste containers to residents. The residents will be able to put their vegetative food scraps, as well as compostable paper, in the carts, Croll says. Residents can save money, too, if recycling food scraps enables households to downsize the size of their regular trash cans, Croll adds.

The commercial food waste recycling is slated to start in the summer. Under the terms of the program, businesses such as restaurants will place food waste for recycling in a separate container from their regular trash. Commercial accounts will have a financial incentive to recycle their food waste. The city's commercial haulers will charge the properties 20 percent less to collect a container of food waste than they would an identical-sized bin of regular trash, Croll says.

Seattle's garbage haulers, which are the local affiliates of Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Allied Waste Industries and Houston-based Waste Management Inc., will haul food waste collected from residential and commercial customers to a local composting facility.

With the creation of the large-scale food waste recycling program, Seattle joins some pretty select company, Krebs says. San Francisco, Oakland and other cities in California's Bay Area have undertaken similar food waste recycling efforts. Krebs hopes these high-profile cities will help to popularize the practice of diverting food scraps from the waste stream. “Seattle is very much on the cutting edge [with its food waste recycling program],” Krebs says. “Food waste needs to be talked about more.”

Citing statistics from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Washington, D.C., Krebs says that food waste accounts for nearly 12 percent of the nation's solid waste stream. Diverting some of those food scraps from landfills can have a significant impact on recycling rates, she says

In addition to the food waste program, Seattle will take several other steps to increase its recycling rate, which was under 40 percent in 2002, according to Croll. The city will install up to 300 recycling dispensers in high-profile public areas and will offer curbside recycling for businesses, he says.