Council moves toward yanking weekly trash service

A Seattle City Council committee wants to cut collection frequency in half even though a survey shows customers are much less satisfied with biweekly service.
One less truck?

One less truck? Photo: Zena C

Taking an initial step toward cutting the frequency of residential trash collection services in Seattle by half, a City Council committee approved a bill on Tuesday that will allow Seattle Public Utilities to renegotiate contracts with solid waste haulers.

Two waste haulers — Waste Management of Washington, Inc. and CleanScapes, Inc. — currently collect garbage every week in Seattle. The bill would give Seattle Public Utilities the ability to change the city's contracts with those companies to allow for biweekly pickups. SPU says the switch from weekly to biweekly service could save the city $5 million to $6 million annually, decrease the amount of landfill-bound waste and reduce garbage truck traffic.

A recent pilot study found that 63 percent of customers were satisfied with biweekly pickups. 

That satisfaction rate, however, is significantly lower than the 89 percent of customers who are happy with the current weekly collection schedule. And some pilot participants reported upticks in vermin sightings and garbage-related odors.

If the bill passes a full council vote, it will give councilmembers and incoming Mayor Ed Murray the option to decide by March 1 whether to change the garbage collection schedule. The earliest that biweekly service could go into effect is April 2015. The service change would only apply to residential structures using garbage cans.

“This legislation today does not initiate a garbage service change,” emphasized Libraries, Utilities, and Seattle Center Committee chair Jean Godden during the meeting. “The council and the new mayor will be weighing the cost savings and recycling benefits of the decision early next year.”

During the committee meeting, Councilmember Sally Bagshaw asked SPU’s director of solid waste, Tim Croll, how the accumulation of two weeks of garbage affects the number of trucks trash haulers need to send out on each collection route. 

“If they’re picking up all the garbage every two weeks," Croll said, "then the routes are going to be smaller because the truck will fill up quicker."

“It goes into their calculations of the price,” he also said. “That’s why the price is not, like, half off for the service.”

SPU estimates that, on average, single-family customers could see a rate reduction of about 6 percent under the biweekly regime, but trash pickups would occur half as often. Meanwhile, households that need to “upsize” their trash can to hold two weeks of waste would pay more than they currently do for service. About eight percent of pilot participants bumped up their can size. 

Trash-can 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. 

Asked in an email on Monday if the service change amounted to a back-door rate increase, committee member Richard Conlin pointed to the low percentage of can upsizers and also said: “The Council has taken the tough votes in public as we always do when we have judged that rate increases are necessary, it’s silly and insulting to suggest that we would need or want to use a subterfuge.”

While the pilot project was coined “One Less Truck,” the number of garbage trucks on the road would actually drop by an estimated 30 percent, according to SPU officials who spoke at Tuesday’s committee meeting.

“I think experientially in your neighborhood it is one less truck,” said SPU’s solid waste contracts manager Hans Van Dusen.

“For those who do like it, the actual experience of one less truck driving down their narrow street," he said, "is exactly that: one less truck.”

Based on the results of the pilot study, SPU projects that city residents would send about 9,000 fewer tons of garbage to landfills each year if trash pickups were biweekly. Additionally, SPU estimates that the Seattle's recycling rate would increase by 1.3 percentage-points.

Conlin said in his email that while the committee has discussed switching to once-a-week recycling pickups, "it is not necessary, since people can put out as much recycling as they want at no charge when the pickup takes place." Adding more recycling pickups after switching to a biweekly garbage collection schedule "would eliminate the cost savings and the reduced truck traffic," he wrote.

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Posted Wed, Dec 11, 8:17 a.m. Inappropriate

Do these people believe Seattleites will consume that much less because their trash isn't picked up as often? And where do they think people are going to pile up their garbage over 14 days? Their garage? Their backyards? Remember how curbsides have looked whenever there's been a weather-related delay in garbage pickups? How happy were residents when that happened? Does the City really want that to be the "new normal?" It would.

That the City Council would even consider doing this when 63% of their constituents (who ultimately pay the garbage bill anyway) say they're satisfied with the current arrangement is staggering. I think most people are okay with paying that $15 a year SPU claims they'd be saving if it meant not having last night's dinner coagulating and reeking in their (or their neighbors') garbage can an extra week.

Posted Wed, Dec 11, 9:36 a.m. Inappropriate

There's a big difference between biweekly garbage pickup versus biweekly everything pickup. In the plan, yard waste would stay weekly. At least for me, yard waste is where almost all of the stinky stuff goes. In fact, occasionally, the garbage can is empty on pickup day.


Posted Thu, Dec 12, 8:32 a.m. Inappropriate

Fair enough, but what do people who live in yardless apartments or condos do?

Posted Fri, Dec 13, 9:59 a.m. Inappropriate

The property manager or condo association should get building-sized yard waste bins. "Yard waste" is now a misnomer.

Posted Wed, Dec 11, 8:38 a.m. Inappropriate

"“If they’re picking up all the garbage every two weeks," Croll said, "then the routes are going to be smaller because the truck will fill up quicker."

“It goes into their calculations of the price,” he also said. “That’s why the price is not, like, half off for the service.”"

HOGWASH! The reason the price would not be 1/2 the current price for 1/2 the current service is because the city wants more money. Otherwise, the contractors could be required to provide sufficient trucks, in number or capacity, to replicate the current capacity.

Mr. Conlin, "it’s silly and insulting to suggest that we would need or want to use a subterfuge?” Hah! The best defense is a good offense, I guess is the strategy, but in fact it's silly and insulting for you expect us to buy the subterfuge that 1/2 the service for the same price isn't a rate increase.

"SPU estimates that the average single-family customer could see a rate reduction of about 6 percent under the biweekly regime." Hmmm. So even if, in the best case, this estimate is pretty accurate, we'd be paying 94% of what we're paying now for 50% of the service? Not a good deal for us. Councilmembers, you'd be well-advised to consider what happened to Mr. Conlin in this last election and consider that you, too, can be replaced if you vote in favor of this rip off.


Posted Sat, Dec 14, 6:16 p.m. Inappropriate

“It goes into their calculations of the price,” he also said. “That’s why the price is not, like, half off for the service.”"

HOGWASH! The reason the price would not be 1/2 the current price for 1/2 the current service is because the city wants more money"

Q1. who is "they" (as in 'their calculations of the price'); and
Q2. might the contractor also be wanting more money? (and the city's willing to split it with them?)

Posted Wed, Dec 11, 8:42 a.m. Inappropriate

Another dumb idea courtesy of your uncaring City Council. They let people pee and crap in the allies all over downtown now (and on many streets), so why not add to the stink by letting garbage pile up. Oh, and what we really need is more "vermin" -- that's rats, among other things, folks -- running through the city. Think there won't be an increased cost to public health because of that?

What will also happen is that more garbage will be thrown into the compost bin, degrading rather than improving the city's recycling efforts.

Meanwhile any "savings" from only picking up every two weeks instead of weekly will be quickly eaten up by "more important things" like more bike lanes, art work, City Council trips and boondoggles, etc.

And you have to laugh when spinmeister Godden says, "This legislation today does not initiate a garbage service change.” It certainly initiates the PROCESS toward a service change. She must think people are stupid or, more likely, she simply doesn't care.

Posted Wed, Dec 11, 9:44 a.m. Inappropriate

Don't worry - if you have extra trash between pick-ups you can do the city a favor and take it to City Hall. Then the trucks can just go to one place to pick up the trash instead of wasting fuel driving all over the city.

If collection is half as often, then the price we're paying for pick-up should be half as much. Otherwise this is just a sneaky way of doing a fee increase.


Posted Wed, Dec 11, 12:34 p.m. Inappropriate

The cost shouldn't be half, unless you're also producing half as much garbage or regularly fill your can only halfway, but I can also understand the logic behind that argument. But 6% seems ridiculous. An upsize, collected less frequently, should cost less.

It's also harder to figure how they're going to have fewer trucks if the trucks will fill up quicker. That means less time in-neighborhood between trips to and from the dump-site.

If this were a good idea, they'd do it to businesses as well. The fact that it only covers cans is just further proof of the war on residents.


Posted Wed, Dec 11, 12:34 p.m. Inappropriate

I don't know how they managed to do it, but unincorporated L.A. county (about 8 years ago), serviced by Waste Management, had an all-you-can-curb policy for $40/month. None of this silly certain-size-can and fees-it-the-lid-doesn't-close nonsense. If it was on the curb, they'd toss it on the truck. I had stripped a room down to the studs and each week was putting out 2 or 3 hefty bags of broken drywall pieces until the one holiday Monday morning when most people forgot to put out cans. I figured they weren't busy as it looked like less than 1 in 5 remembered to put out cans so I started running out bags and they kept taking them from me, encouraging me to just bring them all out. I ended up tossing 22 bags that morning.


Posted Mon, Dec 16, 10:40 a.m. Inappropriate

When I lived in the suburbs of Boston, you could stick your dead grandmother out by the curb and they'd collect her on garbage day, no questions asked. Seattle's "progressives" are incredibly anal retentive about garbage, and a lot of other things too. Funny how the Bostonians shed most of their puritanism, and Seattle has sucked in all four cheeks, tighter and tighter every year.


Posted Thu, Dec 12, 10:16 a.m. Inappropriate

They only war on us because the businesses wouldn't stand for it, and anyway they're keeping in mind their employment when they're booted from office.


Posted Wed, Dec 11, 10:25 a.m. Inappropriate

Conlin -- now that you are out -- you are showing more of that smug attitude that got you booted out. mspat is correct -- City council - keep voting for these increases to save the city money and not the ratepayers for half the service -- my advice to you is don't let the door hit you in the ass on your way out.

But the slogan -- Conlin coined it -- One Less Truck, when it's bs. I have an apartment house next to me where garbage is picked up several times a week -- that's not "One Less Truck" on my street yet I pay more money for garbage pickup. Nice!


Posted Wed, Dec 11, 11:13 a.m. Inappropriate

I wouldn't mind garbage going to every other week if recycling went to every week. As another commenter said, most of the "smelly" stuff should now be going in yard waste, anyway (or down the garbage disposal).

Posted Wed, Dec 11, 12:33 p.m. Inappropriate

Here is one smelly thing I can't put in the yard waste: my daughter's dirty diapers. I applaud the goals of this program, but I just can't see how I'm going to manage the stink. Its not fair to my neighbors either. I'm certain families with multiple diapered kiddos will really struggle with this. (And before you tell me to use cloth diapers, its not any better for the environment (just ask Umbra) and its very impractical when your kid's in school.)

Posted Wed, Dec 11, 12:59 p.m. Inappropriate

Another option is frequent pickup but everyone takes garbage to the end of the street to a common collection bins. When we've stayed in Europe, we've had to do this on our stays.

I'd expect this to be better from a cost and pollution perspective in that trucks would not be idling as they traveled from house to house, and it should also address the public health issues as a fewer collection points would mean less opportunities for vermin.

It might be worth trying...

Posted Wed, Dec 11, 4 p.m. Inappropriate

So, the resident ends up paying a little less for way less service, is that correct? You save 6% on your bill for 50% less service, and if you upsize containers, you "save" even less? Am I reading that right?

As to "one less truck," that seems to depend on what you mean by "one," "less," and "truck."

Posted Thu, Dec 12, 10:25 a.m. Inappropriate

I already have a micro can that I fill approximately once monthly. I compost most of my food waste and the rest goes in the yard container. I could easily go to monthly garbage pickup, but I am not willing to be billed just the same amount as I am now for that or for twice monthly pickups.

I think the city experimented with charging for pickup by weight or some other measure but decided not to go in that direction. I think that would be the appropriate model although I can imagine it might be difficult to work out the logistics. As it is, those of us who produce little real waste likely subsidize those who produce a lot by paying fees out of any rational relationship to what we get for them and allowing the heavy users to pay less than they should.

I agree with Mr. Berger that "one less truck" may be a great sound bite, but what could it possibly mean? And he neatly exposes the complete irrationality of the arguments and slogans for this proposed ripoff. Kudos to him!


Posted Thu, Dec 12, 2:24 p.m. Inappropriate

It's the "progressive" program to save the endangered rat.


Posted Fri, Dec 13, 9:17 p.m. Inappropriate

Hello parks and street garbage cans!! How about a 50% reduction in the garbage rates since the clean green waste bin and recycling blue bin pickup is 'FREE'!!


Posted Sat, Dec 14, 9:08 a.m. Inappropriate

6% rate reduction, while providing 1/2 the service..and a recommendation to up size your the vernacular of the pocket..give me back my 6%..the two words not mentioned, but most needed "trash compactor"..we are charged by volume not weight..

Posted Sat, Dec 14, 11:18 a.m. Inappropriate

You guys are at the mercy of people who don't really know what they're doing -- or exactly why they're doing it.

I've watched the discussions re: charging for weekly garbage and, separately, re: initiating curbside recycling in a much smaller community in another time zone.

When it came to recycling, all the 'usual suspects' were at the table: enviros, city sanitation, garbage servicers, electeds. The essential questions (economic, mostly) were veiled in a fog, leaving plenty of running room for those more aware than the rest (the trash boys) to subtly shape the direction of discussion and concepts to be 'evaluated'.

The final recommendation was precisely what the trash boys desired: contracted-out single-stream service whose 96-gallon toters required a fleet of costly trucks. Everyone compliantly nodded in assent, although NO other viable -entrepreneurial- approaches were even sketched out.

But, in truth, recycling need NOT be a capital-intensive enterprise, despite what the 'informed' decision-makers think it must be. They've fallen victim to the trash boys who make it sound like it is -- because that makes it easier to prevent competition from entering the market. (For a parallel, consider taxi-cabs vs. ride-sharing.)

Another town up the road is about to start curbside recycling. From what I've been able to piece together (including a radio interview of their mayor), this illustrates their 'solution': Think on this and ask yourself what's wrong with this picture? Is the picture complete? (A: No, far from it. There's got to be a hidden 'silent partner' here; the $ don't add up.)

Why/how do city leaders fall into traps like this? (A: because of the thick fog laid down by the trash boys, obscuring and obsfuscating the essential questions.) Thus, my observation that you're being 'played' by the industry's pros.

Posted Sat, Dec 14, 11:59 p.m. Inappropriate

It's because someone yelled "squirrel!". But seriously, they can get most of the revenue by providing much less service - and convince us it is the right thing to do while they are at it.


Posted Sun, Dec 15, 6:48 a.m. Inappropriate

Well put.

Posted Sat, Dec 14, 3:37 p.m. Inappropriate

Small households like ours do not fill up the 20 gallon containers except for rare occasions. I think the two week service makes sense (we can do a lot more to compact our garbage when necessary). 6% is better than zero. There are people who will be inconvenienced by this (diaper problem noted) but it seems like a rational development. More and more people have trash compacters, much more disposables go into recycling than even five years ago.


Posted Sun, Dec 15, 7:09 a.m. Inappropriate

Inspired by this piece, I've suggested to my boss that I only have to work half of my hours but he can reduce my pay by six percent . Fingers crossed!

Posted Wed, Dec 18, 3:42 p.m. Inappropriate

We can pretty much bet that residents will not see a reduction in the cost, just a reduction in service. Will we get a larger receptacle for a lower cost if we go to biweekly service? I am currently on the smallest can, but that will not work sometimes if they make me stockpile two weeks worth of trash.

Seems to the traditional City of Seattle mantra of late - pay more... and more... and more... for less.

Where does all the money go? Look around sometime when you cross the city limits - roads are better, lighting is better, parks are nicer. You name it, it seems other jurisdictions can do more with less money.


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