Seattle looking at trash collection cuts as likely environmental winner

Renton's experience with biweekly collection has been positive and rates for some customers could drop by 10 to 11 percent. The council will decide whether to make the change by March.
See you next week?

See you next week? Trevon Haywood Photography/Flickr

In a move that lays the groundwork for switching residential trash collection from a weekly to biweekly schedule, the City Council unanimously adopted a bill on Monday that would allow Seattle Public Utilities to renegotiate contracts with waste haulers.

The bill does not put biweekly service into effect. But it will give the council and incoming Mayor Ed Murray a chance to decide by March 1 whether to change the garbage collection schedule. The earliest that biweekly service could occur is April 2015. The service change would only apply to residential customers using garbage cans.

SPU estimates that biweekly pickups could decrease garbage truck traffic, incentivize recycling and composting and save the city between $5 million and $6 million annually.

“This is part of our zero waste initiative that has successfully reduced the amount of waste we send to the landfill by over 30 percent over the last six years,” said Councilmember Richard Conlin, who supports the service change and has been a key figure in reducing waste disposal to landfills. “We have taken a train [carrying garbage to a landfill] that was a mile long that we sent everyday and cut it by a third of a mile.”

The utility pays two solid waste contractors — Waste Management of Washington, Inc. and CleanScapes, Inc. — $70 million a year to pick up garbage, recycling and food and yard waste, according to SPU’s senior planning and development specialist Brett Stav.

If the city switches the pickup schedule, residential rates could drop between 10 and 11 percent, according to a report issued earlier this year on a biweekly garbage pickup pilot program. But customers who switch to larger cans to hold two weeks worth of trash would pay more for less frequent service. The utility estimates that the average rate reduction across all customers — those who do and do not “upsize” their trashcans — will be about 6 percent.

Seattle’s trashcans range from 12 gallons to 96 gallons and differ in price based on volume. During the pilot, SPU tested two sets of rates for the various can sizes. One set had a “steep,” 68 percent price increase between each can size and the other had a “shallow,” 25 percent increase. Under the steep rate structure, the price of a medium-sized 32-gallon was $24.20 per month, while the next-size-bigger 64-gallon can was $40.50 — $16.30 extra. Under the shallow rate scenario, the 32-gallon can was $25.10 and the 64-gallon can was $31.25 — $6.15 more expensive.

“The steep rate structure would likely produce fewer long‐term customer garbage can changes, would maintain some incentive for customers to recycle more, and would provide a larger discount to the 70‐90 percent of customers that might remain on their weekly garbage can size,” SPU’s report on the pilot program said. “Conversely, a shallow rate structure would encourage more garbage can changes, would eliminate most of recycling incentive, and would reduce the bill impact for the 10‐30 percent of customers that increase their can size.”

About 8 percent of participants in the pilot program upsized their trashcan.

Stav emphasized that the rates were not final. “These rates are theoretical,” he wrote in an email, “and probably wouldn’t be adopted exactly if the city decides to implement citywide biweekly garbage collection.”

The current monthly collection fee for a 32 gallon can is $29.80 and the fee for a 64 gallon bin doubles to $59.60. In April 2014, rates will increase between $0.80 and $3.75 per month depending on the can size.

“It's important to remember that collection is only one part of the cost to the utility,” Conlin said during Monday’s meeting. Disposal, landfill contamination cleanup and transfer stations add to the price, he said. Conlin told Crosscut last week that he does not consider the service change a backdoor rate increase.

SPU conducted the pilot program, known as the “One Less Truck Project,” between July 1 and Dec. 31, 2012. It involved 800 single-family households in four neighborhoods. Sixty-three percent of participants were satisfied with the biweekly service, compared to the 89 percent of customers who were satisfied with weekly pickups in a 2011 survey. Dissatisfied pilot participants noticed more pests and rodents, increased garbage odors and simply didn’t like having two weeks of trash on their property.

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Posted Tue, Dec 17, 7:35 a.m. Inappropriate

Gee, a chance to have your garbage collection cut by 50% while your garbage bill goes down by only 10% AND you get to keep that lasagna you ate six days ago in the can for another seven days, too. Who (besides Waste Management and CleanScapes) wouldn't love a deal like that?

This is your City Council, surely do know how to pick 'em.

Posted Tue, Dec 17, 8:22 a.m. Inappropriate

Sure, why not increase the rats and stench in the city? Go right along with the City Council and the permissiveness that allows public urination, defecation and open air drug marts to proliferate all over town.

Posted Tue, Dec 17, 10:22 a.m. Inappropriate

But, but, according to liberal dogma, it is the right thing to do!

Why, exactly it is escapes me, but libs think half the service for 90% of the price is a sweet deal. No wonder we are in deep doo-doo.


Posted Tue, Dec 17, 12:47 p.m. Inappropriate

I find that when my trash can is full I become a lot less vigilant about what qualifies as compostable or recyclable.


Posted Tue, Dec 17, 1:06 p.m. Inappropriate

If anyone on the city clowncil reads Crosscut, I hope you realize that we all know where you live. This is not a threat of violence or anything else. I disavow any involvement with those who might toss a stray bag of trash onto your lawn, or might trap their endangered rats and raccoons and release them at your houses for you to protect and nurture. But I do reserve the right to cheer them on.


Posted Wed, Dec 18, 12:39 a.m. Inappropriate

What other ways are there be to cut costs by about 10% (the savings in this proposal)?


Posted Wed, Dec 18, 9:09 a.m. Inappropriate

Maybe it is time for some of you to alter your lifestyle.

Perhaps you could eat that lasagna rather than throwing it away?
I am sick of the disposable attitude that is so prevalent as evidenced by the comments above.

I have a family of four and have no problem switching to bi-weekly collection with our mini-can. You people realize if you put the lids on correctly that vermin can't get in, don't you?


Posted Thu, Dec 19, 5:39 p.m. Inappropriate

Spake jeffro: "I am sick of the disposable attitude that is so prevalent as evidenced by the comments above."

And we're sick of your complaints. If you wish to advance an argument that can hold some water (i.e. make some sense), have at it. Until then keep your tongue in check, please.

P.S. If you took your "don't ask challenging questions" enviro blinders off, maybe you'd also wonder about the wisdom of cutting your neighborhood's (indeed, the entire city's) public sanitation service in half. After all, it's not just about you.

Posted Fri, Dec 20, 8:39 a.m. Inappropriate

Advance the argument? Like make some suggestions as to how to eliminate waste by not buying unnecessary items or making so much food it gets thrown away?

P.S. If you took off your "don't ask why this might be a good idea/ government agencies are always trying to rip-me-off" blinders, you might see that this is the only way to incentivize people to actually consider whether they need something before they purchase it.

P.S.S. "Spake" is not a word.


Posted Sat, Dec 21, 5:04 a.m. Inappropriate

"this is the only way to incentivize people to actually consider whether they need something before they purchase it"

Wow! that's revealing of your perspective. There is just so much wrong with that comment.

P.S. it's "P.P.S"

P.P.S. it's not government ripping you off, they're merely agents of others dipping needlessly deep into your pockets. The tra$h boy$ have them (and rabid enviros like you) doing their bidding for them. Consider this Ask yourself if there's something missing in that picture; it should be obvious.

Posted Tue, Dec 31, 8:52 a.m. Inappropriate

Thanks 'turned out the lights' for that fourth grade infographic.

Every time I see an article about this proposal, a bunch of people come on, many from other municipalities, bragging about how much they can throw away for so cheaply. Bragging! Imagine that.

So yes, it is human nature to want to get rid of things free. I stand by my comment that the only way for most of you to stop buying more things that you throw away is to make you pay more to dispose of it.


Posted Fri, Dec 20, 2:07 a.m. Inappropriate

All this will do is cause me to increase the use of my garbage disposal, which is a lot worse for the sewer system than weekly garbage collection is for the city government.


Posted Fri, Dec 20, 9:47 a.m. Inappropriate

And when the rats come out of your toilet after they follow the trail of ground-up food through your sewer pipes, you can name them Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donder and Blitzen!

Maybe you will get lucky and a little red-nosed rat will appear.


Posted Fri, Dec 20, 11:50 a.m. Inappropriate

Make sure to tell me where you live so it doesn't have to be set free on Richard Conlin's lawn.


Posted Thu, Dec 19, 5:55 p.m. Inappropriate

"[Renton's solid waste coordinator] also said the city has not done a customer satisfaction survey since the new collection schedule went into effect"

Yet she advances (untested) theories about why people in Renton finally "adjusted" to reducing trash collection to only every other week while RAISING their rates 37%. (Without a jar of Vasolene, I suppose that was pretty painful.)

She speaks like she must know everything about the market. That's just plain bull-you-know-what typical of any monopoly provider, government utility worker or Sound Transit spokesperson. I've never read that Renton city government is a model of efficiency.

The Crosscut reporter perhaps could have dialed up some regular folks in Renton to ask their opinion, instead of lazily following a lead probably provided by someone on the inside of Seattle's maneuverings. That would qualify as journalism.

Posted Fri, Dec 20, 2:09 a.m. Inappropriate

You are suggesting that Crosscut commit some journalism. They aren't staffed to do that.


Posted Sat, Dec 21, 5:05 a.m. Inappropriate

True dat. Same goes for just about every news outlet these days.

Posted Tue, Dec 31, 10:47 a.m. Inappropriate


You appear to be criticizing those who you believe purchase and/or cook more than they need, presumably because you believe they are wasteful. No opinion there without further facts, but I don't read you as complaining about paying the same rate for trash/recycle/yardwaste collection and yet receiving only half the service if the city council adopts this idea. Are you OK with wasting your own hard-earned money to pay big salaries to entitled bureaucrats by essentially paying double what you do now for those services?


Posted Wed, Jan 1, 5:59 p.m. Inappropriate

Of course he's okay with it. He's a Seattle "progressive," isn't he?


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