Before Seattle City Councilmember Lisa Herbold took another look at a biweekly garbage collection pilot from 2012, Mayor Jenny Durkan sent her a letter stating she does not support making such a move now.
The chair of the Civil Rights, Utilities, Economic Development & Arts Committee, Herbold requested a presentation by Seattle Public Utilities on the results of the 2012 pilot project, which lasted six months and was implemented in four Seattle neighborhoods.
Councilmembers Mike O’Brien and Kshama Sawant joined Herbold in pushing for more information about potentially launching every-other-week (EOW) garbage collection citywide in an effort to reduce carbon emissions caused by waste management vehicles during the July 9 meeting.
The mayor is one impediment to EOW garbage collection, as are 10-year solid waste contracts with Waste Management and CleanScapes adopted earlier this year that do not provide an option to make such a switch in collection frequency and commit the city to costs for fleet improvements.
SPU chief administrative officer Ken Snipes told the committee findings from the pilot demonstrated economic, environmental and customer challenges. Those were among the mayor’s objections outlined in a letter sent to Herbold and other councilmembers minutes prior to the July 9 meeting.
“As the presentation shows, people with lower household income, people of color, and people with larger household size were more unhappy with the pilot program than their wealthier and whiter neighbors,” Durkan’s letter reads. “To date, no Racial Equity Toolkit analysis has been done on Every-Other-Week Garbage Collection and the preliminary results indicate that there are significant Race and Social Justice Initiative concerns with such a program.”
The six-month pilot was implemented in Central Leschi, South Dunlap, Southwest Highland Park and Northeast Wedgewood.
SPU launched satisfaction surveys two months into the pilot and again when it ended in January 2013. The project covered 807 single-family households.
Only 220 households responded to the interim survey, and then 260 responded to the final survey. White residents accounted for 70 percent of respondents while only 5 percent of African Americans answered the surveys. Only 2 percent of respondents identified as Latino/Hispanic.
Sawant pointed out that the presentation by SPU only had data for white and Asian residents. SPU contracts manager Hans VanDusen confirmed the department had that information but didn’t include it in its slideshow presentation.
Thirty-seven percent in the post survey reported income of $75,000 or more, while 24 percent reported making less than $50,000. Only 9 percent of respondents were renters.
Overall, 63 percent of participants in the pilot reported being satisfied with the pilot, and 53 percent recommended EOW collection be implemented citywide. O’Brien said that means the majority, albeit a narrow majority.
“I don’t wake up in the morning thinking how can I make things less convenient for folks living in Seattle,” O’Brien said.
He noted SPU’s recycling report shows recycling has “flatlined,” meaning Seattle is nowhere near meeting its 2022 targets.
“I know that I have not been providing the political leadership needed to push the needle forward,” O’Brien said.
All three councilmembers wanted to know if the mayor was scrapping the city’s zero-waste goals. Herbold said she believes the impacts of climate change have changed perceptions in the last seven years, and more residents would support efforts to reduce carbon emissions through EOW collection.
The City of Seattle has been providing biweekly recycling collection for the past 20 years, and in 2009 it began offering weekly yard waste collection with food scraps.
Projections were that the EOW collection would result in 9,000 tons of diversion through composting and recycling in 2012. That projection would be less today, VanHusen said, because food waste diversion has been required since 2015.
Sawant said EOW collection will prompt people to change their behavior and take steps to reduce the waste going into their garbage bins. She also believes a majority of households support reducing carbon emissions.
“You will really take pains in terms of reducing garbage, even when you make grocery shopping decisions and, when you’re doing garbage and recycling, really taking care to separate things out,” Sawant said.
VanHusen agreed with Herbold, who said she understood many customers who were dissatisfied with the pilot had expected their utility bill to go down. The projected savings for most households if EOW were implemented citywide is less than 10 percent.
Tacoma, Olympia, Renton and Portland have EOW garbage collection, and VanHusen said those municipalities did initially see satisfaction dip, and then later rebound.
Herbold was happy to hear that there would be a 35 percent reduction in fleet and related emissions for household garbage service. VanHusen said biweekly garbage pickup wouldn’t result in a 50 percent emission reduction because higher volumes of waste per stop means fewer households served per route.
“That reduction is still pretty fantastic,” Herbold said.
While the city’s solid waste management contracts do not provide room to negotiate costs for citywide every-other-week garbage collection, there is flexibility to offer an opt-in option for customers who want to make the switch, VanHusen said. However, additional revenue would be required from other customers to subsidize an opt-in service, he said. Herbold said she didn’t see an opt-in accomplishing the city’s goal of reducing carbon emissions. Sawant agreed.
“I just feel like I don’t know if opt-in is the best starting point,” she said.
Herbold said she also wants to introduce land use legislation that would require new multifamily buildings provide recycling and compost stations on every other floor.
“I’m looking forward to getting more support from the executive on that as well,” she said.
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