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Island Disposal pushes recycling

Island County garbage customers may soon be paying an additional fee to recycle their refuse.

Representatives from Waste Connections, the parent company of Island Disposal, explained its rate hike proposals at last Wednesday’s staff session and further laid out its proposed curbside recycling program.

The commissioners were presented with two options for implementing a “single stream recycling program” that is expected to increase the efficiency of recyclable segregation and reduce the amount of monthly waste per family.

Single stream recycling refers to a system in which all paper fibers and containers are mixed together in a collection truck, instead of being sorted into separate commodities by the resident and handled separately throughout the collection process.

“This system is currently in place in Oak Harbor,” said Eddie Westmoreland, Waste Connections division vice president. “It replicates Pierce County’s, which has been in place for two years.”

The company representative said Pierce County’s award-winning program is a mandatory pay system in which all residents who are currently signed up for garbage collection also pay a fee for curbside recycling.

Pierce County has a 95 percent participation rate, according to Westmoreland. Assuming a more modest 75 percent participation rate, the monthly cost for a 96-gallon or 65-gallon cart with bi-monthy collection would be $5.56.

“The rates would be applicable only to Island Disposal customers,” said Westmoreland. The company has more than 9,000 customers.

The second option would be a voluntary pay system. Using the same containers with the same collection frequency, the projected rate is more than double.

“We would not recommend a voluntary system,” Westmoreland said.

As a regulated monopoly, the company must go before the Washington Utilities and Transportation Committee to justify rate increases. All of the numbers discussed last Wednesday are pending approval by the WUTC. Waste Connections has already notified the county that a rate increase is imminent, not including the curbside recycling program. To continue the existing service, the company estimates a $2 to $4 jump. The fee would be absorbed by the curbside recycling program if implemented.

In many situations, decreasing the number of cans picked up each week by using the recycling program would result in offset costs because of commodity credits.

“We’re actually getting something of value,” said Irmgard Wilcox, Waste Connections controller.

“Some people will actually reduce their costs,” Westmoreland said.

Different bins will be used for the various recyclables. And the large 96-gallon and smaller 65-gallon wheeled containers will not be the only sizes offered. By special arrangement, customers may affix stickers to their own standard-size 32-gallon garbage cans to identify the receptacle as recycling.

Commissioner Phil Bakke pointed out that the proposed program does not include glass. Westmoreland said in single-stream systems, glass gets broken and the colors are mixed together. Instead, glass is redirected to drop stations where they are sorted by color. Additional drop-off points other than the county’s four stations on Whidbey Island may be available under the program, similar to the Oak Harbor curbside program.

“Those glass volumes actually get turned into new beverage containers,” the division VP said. “We’re trying to minimize contamination while maximizing the value of fibrous materials.”

Commissioner Mac McDowell suggested that people would continue to throw glass into the regular garbage. Westmoreland acknowledged the likelihood, but said even with the mixing, a substantial amount of glass is still recycled.

“When you do the cost/benefit analysis, it really makes sense to go this route,” he said of the recycling program and the mandatory pay option.

The WUTC reviews rates periodically. Westmoreland said the last increase took place in 2000. He added that the rates, once set, are generally in place for “quite some time,” assuaging McDowell’s concerns.

The commissioner was also nervous that rates could skyrocket in the future and the county would be powerless to opt out of the agreement. Westmoreland said the rates have historically been stable and the impact on fuel prices is already reflected in the rates.

Between soup cans, newspapers and other items, Wilcox said the amount of recyclables generated by one family is astounding.

“There’s not much you can’t throw in there,” she said.

And Westmoreland said as long as commodity prices continue to rise, the savings will continue to drive down customer costs.

“It ends up being a self-funding program for people who really want to participate,” he said. “It’s a win-win program for everyone.”

Before the commissioners make a decision, Bakke asked the company to hold three or four regional meetings to help inform the community about the program and recycling options. The other commissioners agreed that more public education is needed prior to moving forward. Westmoreland, whose company is reportedly losing money on the existing program, agreed that education is vital and meetings would be a viable vehicle.

“I think the key to any recycling program is education,” he said. “Island County is getting the benefit of our expertise in other jurisdictions ... we’re not starting from ground zero.”

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