Biweekly Seattle trash pick ups: A stinker?

The changeover from once-a-week service could save Seattle Public Utilities money and cut down on garbage truck traffic. Some customers aren't so sure.

Garbage pick-ups in Seattle could change from weekly to biweekly if the Seattle City Council approves a plan discussed in a committee meeting on Tuesday morning.

The Libraries, Utilities and Seattle Center Committee is considering a bill that would allow Seattle Public Utilities' (SPU) director to change agreements with the companies that collect garbage in Seattle, giving them an option to pick up trash every other week. Two contractors — Waste Management of Washington, Inc. and CleanScapes, Inc. — currently collect garbage every week. At Tuesday's meeting, SPU staff members presented findings from a biweekly garbage collection pilot program conducted last year in Seattle's Wedgwood, Leschi, Dunlap and Highland Park neighborhoods. 

Over 60 percent of the pilot’s participants were satisfied with their service, but lower-income and minority customers and households with diapers were more inclined to say that the less frequent pick ups stink. Increases in bad odors and rodent sightings were among the reasons customers said they were dissatisfied.

The service cuts would save SPU about $5 to $6 million annually and, according to SPU officials, reduce garbage truck traffic and incentivize recycling and composting. Garbage collection bills should go down for most customers if the council approves the new collection regimen, but households that need to upsize their trashcans to hold two weeks of waste would pay more.

“We’re certainly not the first ones to do this,” said Tim Croll, SPU’s director of solid waste. “The downside, you know, is everyone is kind of used to how the garbage is done, so there’s the potential for customer opposition and unintended consequences.”

Croll said SPU was brainstorming about how to help diaper-using households if the service reduction occurs. Among the options discussed was a premium once-a-week pickup service, and distributing coupons for cloth diaper laundering.

Croll mentioned Renton and Olympia as examples of other cities with bi-weekly pickups. 

Of the 800 people who participated in the 6-month biweekly pickup pilot program, 63 percent said they were satisfied with the reduced service and 33 percent were dissatisfied. By comparison, SPU surveys show that about 89 percent of households with weekly garbage pickups are satisfied with their service.

Biweekly pick ups should reduce garbage truck traffic by an estimated 25 percent, resulting in a 15 percent drop in trash hauling emissions, according to SPU. The utility also estimates that the service change will encourage Seattleites to use their recycling and composting bins, lessening the amount of waste put into trashcans by 9,000 tons annually.

As for how the changes will affect monthly garbage bills, Croll said in an email: "The average single family customer (that is an average of the can upsizers and the can-keepers) could see a 6 percent reduction. Can upsizers would see a cost increase from their previous service."

Trashcan sizes range from 12 gallons to 96 gallons. The monthly collection fee for a medium-sized 32 gallon can is $29.80. The fee for the next sized bigger can, which is 64 gallons, is $59.60.

About eight percent of the pilot program participants chose to upsize their cans. “We got a lot fewer upsizers than we expected,” Croll said.

To some extent, satisfaction rates among pilot program participants varied based on income and race. Seventy percent of households with incomes over $60,000 were satisfied with the biweekly trash pickups, while the same was true for only 61 percent of households with incomes under $60,000. Satisfaction rates for white and Asian participants were around 70 percent, but dropped to 50 percent among other racial and ethnic groups.

In a 2011 SPU survey, only about 33 percent of customers said they’d be satisfied with trash pickups every other week.

“It shows that actually living through it makes a big difference,” Croll said. “Many people approached with trepidation at first and then got used to it.”

The Libraries, Utilities and Seattle Center committee plans to vote on the proposal next week. If it passes, then a full council vote on legislation that directs SPU to switch service would likely take place in February. The earliest that the changes would go into effect would be early 2015.


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Comments:

Posted Tue, Dec 3, 5:23 p.m. Inappropriate

I just HAVE to know. What does race have to do with garbage pickup frequency? My other question is why is it the city's responsibility to provide coupons for people to wash their diapers? That's just crazy talk! If people either need to get a larger garbage can to handle disposable diapers or wash cloth ones then those are the choices. Pick one and pay for it yourself.

cbbear

Posted Tue, Dec 3, 7:48 p.m. Inappropriate

We'd be in the "dissatisfied" camp - here's our sob story - our special needs child is going to be in diapers for who knows how many years/decades. Right now we keep our can in the garage and, thanks to the diapers, we have Waste Management's largest can. If we had to go to every other week we'd probably have to pay for multiple cans and we'd probably have to get permission from our HOA to erect a fence (since cans aren't supposed to be visible).

Was there any observed side-effects, such as more animals getting into trash or more litter in those areas?

And on a related note - is the city willing to go to every other week for businesses, too?

tvjames

Posted Wed, Dec 4, 6:49 p.m. Inappropriate

Oh who cares about you? Seattle is a "progressive" city, and you don't count.

NotFan

Posted Tue, Dec 3, 10:10 p.m. Inappropriate

Hmm... a 10% price cut but a 50% cut in service. Doesn't sound like such a great deal.

jonstahl

Posted Wed, Dec 4, 7:21 a.m. Inappropriate

Yep, you got that right. This is a back-door rate increase, pure and simple. But it doesn't look like anybody in City Hall will own up to that, does it?

Posted Wed, Dec 4, 8:40 a.m. Inappropriate

Yes, 10% is not an equitable exchange. On the other hand, 50% would be too generous as there will be double the garbage to pickup. Maybe 25%? There must be some numbers that could be scrutinized by the public.

Bill Lucia: can you do a little investigation and follow up with another article?

pragmatic

Posted Wed, Dec 4, 9:56 a.m. Inappropriate

I'm tired of these new programs to save the city money yet cost the taxpayers over and over again. If we have half the service we should have half the price. When this idea first surfaced a couple of years ago -- Richard Conlin was head of the utilities committee. They were joking around at the city council hearing trying to come up with a slogan to "encourage" Seattle residents to embrace this new program. The slogan he thought best was "One Less Truck." It was after watching him at this hearing (and many follow-up hearings on land use) that my opinion of him changed drastically. I am so glad he is was voted out of office.

Norge

Posted Thu, Dec 5, 10:29 p.m. Inappropriate

Maybe it is tied up to the movement to increase minimum wage- the minimum wage for trash collectors will double to $220K/year (http://globaleconomicanalysis.blogspot.com/2010/04/seattle-trash-collectors-make-average.html)

WSDW

Posted Wed, Dec 4, 10:08 a.m. Inappropriate

I'm with those who say 50% reduction in pickups MUST equal 50% reduction in total fees (including their "customer charge" or whatever they're calling it).

And how is it that with 50% less collection we would get only 25% reduction in trucks. As R on Beacon Hill says, this is a back door rate increase for sure. Maybe time to cut the bureaucrats in number and pay instead.

Furthermore, as I understand it, the garbage truck drivers earn something like $80-90K per year. That's at least twice what I make and I have professional degree, and the school loans to prove it. Time to tame that tiger, too, I'd say.

mspat

Posted Wed, Dec 4, 11:49 a.m. Inappropriate

What a short-sighted (or perhaps I need to say short-smelled) idea. I don't believe fewer garbage pickups is a savings for the city. It seems to be more a convenience for some administrative suits who won't be affected by stinkier neighborhoods since they possibly don't live in Seattle. Also, would this mean an increase in public health funding to staunch the influx of vermin? Yuck!!!!!

Posted Wed, Dec 4, 7:31 p.m. Inappropriate

But don't you get it? Rats and raccoons are in such short supply. We must nurture the poor things!

NotFan

Posted Wed, Dec 4, 12:39 p.m. Inappropriate

Given the huge rise in my SPU bill over the last decade (which I know for a fact is in large part to pay for their cumbersome, overpaid administration), it is outrageous that they now plan to cut a basic service without a significant reduction in charges. And like everything they do, they have the nerve to hide behind a greed facade. I mean really, is global climate change really going to slow because Seattle reduces garbage pick-up??!! (Which begs the larger question: if Seattle didn't even exist, would the global climate even notice?)

Posted Wed, Dec 4, 3:04 p.m. Inappropriate

Amen!

mspat

Posted Wed, Dec 4, 6:48 p.m. Inappropriate

If Seattle didn't exist, there would be major climate improvement owing to the reduction of "progressive" methane emissions. As for so-called climate initiatives, it's impossible to take any of it seriously when the "progressives" deliberately foster traffic congestion, and ban plastic bags in favor of alternatives that are FAR more polluting, including on the global warming front.

Climate change has nothing whatsoever to do with this or any other "environmental" initiative that emanates from this city's "progressive" phonies.

NotFan

Posted Wed, Dec 4, 12:50 p.m. Inappropriate

In a four week period, there are currently 10 household waste pick-ups: 4 garbage, 4 yard waste, and 2 recycling. Only two garbage pickups would result in 8 - a 20% trip reduction.

As for the 6% average reduction on half as many pick-ups, assuming we are talking only garbage here, two possible conclusions are evident. One is that the basic cost is going up substantially, somewhat camouflaged by this change in pickup. The other is that non-pickup overhead is dramatic to have 50% fewer pick-ups result in so little consumer savings.

This committee and/or the City Council needs to give us all greater insight into the cost structure of the solid waste branch of city services. Even the press could do it if the city will release the data.

Posted Wed, Dec 4, 1:31 p.m. Inappropriate

Portland plan makes sense to me: weekly pick-up of all recycling, with every other week pick-up of garbage. It would not be a reduction in service so much as continuing to support changes in people's habits. I am a big recycler, particularly yard (and food) waste. I generate very little garbage and would welcome a change in thinking. I live in West Puget Sound. I will follow with interest any changes Seattle makes.

Posted Wed, Dec 4, 6:25 p.m. Inappropriate

Yep, let's effectively double the fee and provide more habitat for endangered rats. Sounds like our "progressive" city administration is hard at work again. I don't know what's more pathetic: the idea itself, or the notion that Seattle somehow thinks people here are "smart."

NotFan

Posted Thu, Dec 5, 7:21 a.m. Inappropriate

Aw, come on NotFan -- the cost of rat abatement would be borne by the homeowner. I've got at least one in the garage right now because the city allows developers to tear down old houses without doing rodent abatement first -- and the rats scatter to find a new home. (I just killed the ones I got from the development behind me and I've got another new townhouse being built one lot away.) I've got the D-con out -- need to buy more!

Norge

Posted Thu, Dec 5, 9:05 a.m. Inappropriate

We could all help out a little and drop off our trash in front of City Hall on the weeks that it isn't being picked up. That would mean even fewer trucks in the neighborhoods since they'll only have to go to 5th & Cherry to get it.

talisker

Posted Thu, Dec 5, 10:13 p.m. Inappropriate

I am all for fortnightly trash pickups. However I am absolutely appalled that the cost savings are not being passed onto the customers.

'Croll said in an email: "The average single family customer (that is an average of the can upsizers and the can-keepers) could see a 6 percent reduction. Can upsizers would see a cost increase from their previous service." '

If you double the capacity of your can then you should get a cost reduction because it is more efficient to pick up a big can every two weeks than a small can every week and the landfill fees should be the same.

If you keep the same sized can then your garbage costs should halve. So 6% of the cost reduction is going to citizens and 44% of the cost reduction is going to support a bloated bureaucracy in SPU.

WSDW

Posted Fri, Dec 6, 7:23 p.m. Inappropriate

Come on, does Seattle's "progressive" city government ever pass up the chance to do less work for more money?

NotFan

Posted Mon, Dec 9, 1:32 p.m. Inappropriate

I am pretty sure that the garbage rate we pay covers more than just the cost of collecting the garbage. My understanding is that it also pays for the recycling collection program, and the cost of getting the garbage from the trucks to the train and it also pays the fee at the landfill where all of the garbage goes. Since the cost of collection is only a part of the total cost, a reduction in the collection part of 50% doesn't translate to a 50% reduction in your rate. Something a lot less than that probably.

Posted Mon, Dec 9, 2:53 p.m. Inappropriate

If they would only pickup half the time, then they need to charge much less definitely. They also need to pickup yard and food waste weekly still, yeech it WILL STINK if they don't. And for a long time, they have needed to stop charging for extra yard waste. Just make people who regularly put out extra bags get a bigger container. Someone is making $$$ off that Cedar Grove compost.

Other than that, I'm fine with the idea. I put out my small trash can every other week and large recycling about once a month as it is.

Posted Tue, Dec 10, 11:56 a.m. Inappropriate

RE making $$ off Cedar Grove compost: Oh yeah! How is it that we are paying the city to provide a private business with its basic materials, i.e., our compostables? Don't private businesses usually have to buy their own materials? Why doesn't the city require Cedar Grove to acquire the trucks and hire the drivers to pick up our compostables? It's getting the benefit, we sure aren't. We pay to have the stuff picked up and taken to them and then we pay again for the final product. Something's not right in that picture.

mspat

Posted Tue, Dec 10, 7:49 p.m. Inappropriate

... and they don't even produce the compost within Seattle city limits. Why do we give them our compostibles for free, let them create their dirt where they will, and sell it?

Oh yeah ... the smells. But still, Seattle residents ought to get a 10% discount if they buy Cedar Grove compost, don't you think?

Posted Wed, Dec 11, 8:46 a.m. Inappropriate

A 10% discount? Uh, nah! Either Cedar Grove should be paying us for supplying it with raw materials for its business, or it should be picking up the raw materials and providing its product at, at most, 50% less than they're charging now.

mspat

Posted Thu, Dec 26, 6:17 a.m. Inappropriate

WOW,
Trashcan sizes range from 12 gallons to 96 gallons. The monthly collection fee for a medium-sized 32 gallon can is $29.80. The fee for the next sized bigger can, which is 64 gallons, is $59.60. what do you get for that....on the Kansas side of the Kansas City metro area we pay $54.00 every 3 months...not a typo...and that includes recycling, trash, and yardwaste pick-up every week...looks like you all need to clean house and re-submit trash hauling bids. The prices quoted here are based on individuals paying so you can imagine how much cheaper it would be if our price was a city contract like yours.

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