County residents split on curbside recycling

A proposed curbside pickup recycling program has received mixed reviews from Whidbey Island residents, according to preliminary numbers from a recent survey disseminated to customers by Island County Public Works.

But surveys are still out there and making their way to the courthouse.

“Preliminary numbers show about a 50/50 split for curbside recycling,” said Bill Oakes, Island County Public Works director.

The timing for implementing the program could be opportune, Oakes told the Board of Island County Commissioners at last Wednesday’s staff session. Waste Connections, the county’s franchised hauler, has already predicted a rate hike of $4 to continue offering its existing curbside recycling services.

“The existing system that Waste Connections uses to recycle that curbside stream, takes the waste, empties it on a conveyor and picks the recyclables out,” Oakes said.

That recycling process is less than 5 percent efficient. The contractor expects the proposed system to remove up to 30 percent of the recyclables.

Taking into account the proposed rate hike to maintain the old system, the new curbside recycling program would only amount to a $1.50 per month increase and result in a more efficient system, Oakes said.

He added that when the county was informed of the increase, it sent out the surveys to gauge community interest.

Oakes asked the commissioners last Wednesday for permission to give representatives from Waste Connections the green light to provide a detailed presentation to the board, laying out their services and costs. The county can only approve implementation of a recycling program, not rate increases.

“We asked them to come up with a proposal for curbside recycling,” the public works director said.

Waste Connections is a regulated monopoly, having purchased Island Disposal two years ago.

Franchised haulers must go before the Washington Utilities and Transportation Committee to justify rate increases. The $4 figure came about after the franchised hauler reviewed its operations and concluded it was losing money on the current recycling program.

“The efficiency has nose dived over the last six years,” said Dave Bonvouloir, Island County Solid Waste manager.

Waste volumes and operating costs increased at a time when solid waste rates were dropping. It does not require Euclid to work out the consequences.

“Curbside recycling should be more convenient for residential customers than self-hauling to a county recycling center,” Oakes said. “Recycling can be done in each customer’s garage. But to cover the costs of deploying recycling carts, pickup crew and equipment, a net additional fee of about $1.50 must be imposed.”

The blanket fee would ensure an adequate, fixed amount of revenue coming in to support the program.

“The company needs a certain customer base to meet their costs,” Oakes said.

Bonvouloir advocated for the program, emphasizing as an example, that Pierce County customers have been very pleased with the service.

“We’d be paying $4 for an increasingly inefficient system that is not working,” he said.

Commissioner Mac McDowell was not convinced. The survey thus far shows that only half of Whidbey Island is interested.

“Money is money,” he said.

The commissioners will revisit the issue at the October staff session.

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