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A word for corporate Seattle: plastics

Guest Opinion: Unlike residents, Seattle businesses only have to recycle paper and cardboard. The City Council wants to add plastics.
Seattle businesses don't have to recycle plastic - yet.

Seattle businesses don't have to recycle plastic - yet. Credit: MC =)/Flickr

Seattleites are known nationally as leaders in recycling. It’s such a civic preoccupation that earlier this year when citywide curbside recycling reached a landmark (25 years), hardly anyone took notice. We take recycling virtually for granted.

Seattle is first (sometimes second, depending on how you measure) for recycling in the nation. The good news is that Seattle’s recycling rate continues to increase. It’s up to a high of 55.7 percent in 2012.

One sector that did not see any growth last year, however, is the commercial sector. Residential rates are 71.1 percent; commercial rates just 61.4 percent. The big opportunity now is to achieve higher rates in the commercial sector.

The difference between single family and commercial recycling is that businesses are only required to recycle paper and cardboard (since 2005 the single family sector has had comprehensive recycling of glass, aluminum, tin, and plastic).

The Seattle City Council, having heard from small businesses, solid waste companies, office building managers, environmentalists and large corporations, unanimously passed a Comprehensive Commercial Recycling bill yesterday. It’s honestly just a matter of doing at work what we’ve all been doing at home.

Commercial recycling will prevent at least 200 train-car loads of recyclable material from ending up in the landfill. Picture a train stretching from the Sculpture Garden to Century Link Field heading to recycling centers instead of the dumping ground.

The ban will take place a step at a time. To start with, Comprehensive Commercial Recycling will be about education and resources for businesses. It will begin in January, 2014 and involve a year-and-a-half of education before enforcement begins. Educational notice tags on cans with significant amounts of glass, plastic, aluminum, tin, paper and cardboard may appear after July, 2014. Infractions could apply to multiple violations starting in July, 2015.

But education is the primary goal. This is an opportunity to re-energize recycling efforts throughout all sectors in the city. And businesses aren’t alone here. I recently started a pilot project to test recycling best practices at City Hall. Based on the results from a Zero Waste Seattle study, we should see some improvements from our current 82 percent recycling rate at the City Council.

You bet Seattleites like to talk trash (and recycling) and we’re all in this together so let’s start something right now: “What do I do with that coffee cup?” Paper cups, whether for coffee or soda, definitely should be recycled.

Jean Godden is a member of the Seattle City Council and chair of its Libraries, Utilities, and Center Committee. She was a columnist and chronicler of Seattle life for many years at both Seattle daily newspapers. She has endorsed state Sen. Ed Murray for mayor. You can follow her on Twitter: @jean_godden.


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