Seattle Mandates Recycling

THE EMERALD CITY soon will be forced to get a little greener. The Seattle city council recently voted to require residents and commercial businesses to recycle paper, cardboard, glass, plastic bottles, aluminum and tin cans.

The mandate, which becomes effective Jan. 1, 2005, calls for refuse receptacles containing banned materials to be “tagged” as warnings to residents during the first year. By 2006, however, if banned materials are found three times in a resident's garbage, the city will collect the trash only after recyclable items have been removed. Businesses will be fined $50 for each collection that contains recyclables.

The ordinance is mostly geared toward businesses because they are hovering at a 17 percent recycling rate, city officials say. However, the new rules were set in motion in December 2003 after Seattle's overall recycling rate continued to decline. In 1995, the rate was 44 percent, and it fell to 38 percent in 2001 and remained there during 2002. The city is waiting for 2003 recycling data. Recently, Mayor Greg Nickels affirmed the 60 percent citywide goal, with the hopes of reaching it by 2008.

The mandate does offer potential savings for Seattle, according to Susan Stoltzfus, spokeswoman for Seattle Public Utilities. “Sending waste to the landfill is more expensive than operating recycling programs,” she says. “As [landfill costs continue to rise], every ton that we can divert is going to be a cost savings.”

The biggest, most expensive challenge Seattle faces is in educating residents, so it isn't wasting any time in getting the word out. For example, the city already has devised a Recycling IQ Game on its Web site, []. Also, the city has streamlined its collection process by offering residents 90-gallon, wheeled bins that accept commingled materials, except glass.

Thus far, not much negative feedback has been received concerning the new mandate, officials say.

“[Seattle is] lucky because so many people are committed to recycling,” Stoltzfus says.