A reluctant push for U-District recycling: Education program needed before recycling can start, organizers say

As part of an ongoing effort to clean up the University District, Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) has teamed with community members to look into bringing a new public recycling program to the area.

If the city can afford an education effort to accompany the program, about 25 recycling containers will be placed throughout the University District as early as June. Without the education component, though, business owners and U-District residents fear the plan will fail.

"The community is sort of saying 'hold off' until we have everything answered," said Teresa Hugel, executive director of the Greater University Chamber of Commerce. "They're working right now to find out if there's any money in the budget for an education campaign."

If the containers are placed in the U-District, they will be anchored to the fluted, green garbage cans already bolted to the sidewalks. The recycling cans look similar to the garbage ones, only they're smaller and light blue.

More study needed

SPU's Mike Mercer is heading up the recycling program, and Brett Stav is its spokesperson. Stav said they both agree the cans should not be installed in the U-District without an education campaign, even though they've already been purchased at about $400 each.

The recycling containers are already on Broadway, though, where the city is keeping watch on their effectiveness.

Stav, also a senior planning and development specialist for the city, said it appears the containers are working "pretty well" on Capitol Hill, even though SPU did not implement an education campaign there. However, the city has yet to measure the contamination in those cans to know how much garbage is getting mixed in with the recyclables.

"A lot of the education based around this system is what goes in the cans," Stav said, explaining, "Typically, we do some advertising. We'll advertise in multiple papers; we'll go out and talk to local businesses."

And until the city secures funding for those types of efforts, Hugel is doubtful the containers will work in the U-District.

"It's just that people are constantly putting incorrect things in the cans," she said. "For example, the Starbucks coffee cups do not go in the cans."

The high transient population around the University of Washington also could be problematic.

Cans and other recyclables, Hugel explained, "have a cash value to people who are homeless." Community members are concerned about the health issues that could arise if people frequently dig through the containers to look for those items.

Figuring out the science

Chamber president Don Schulze, though, considers the recycling program "one more step in making the area a nicer place for everybody."

Schulze, who owns Shultzy's Sausage on the Ave, has noticed a difference since the green garbage cans were placed near his restaurant. "It's been a success, and the streets are cleaner and nicer," he said.

However, the garbage cans had less success near bus stops in the U-District, where they often overflowed. As a result, the city has since relocated them.

"There's sort of a science to how often the litter and recycling cans get serviced," Stav said. "It's a science in that you need to figure out what the flow is and what the volume is for each community, and it takes us a few months to get it down."

The city contracts with Allied Waste, and presently, the recycling containers emptied most often on Broadway are serviced three times a week.

To determine the right frequency of servicing if the recycling program is approved for the U-District, Stav said, "We'll have to work closely with our garbage and our recycling hauler."

For now, though, the plan is in its early stages. "It's all still being negotiated," Hugel said.

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