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Island County considers curbside recycling

Vanessa Thompson, Island County Solid Waste attendant, rearranges brown glass in the container at the Oak Harbor recycling center Tuesday. What to do with glass is one of the questions up in the air as the county calls for bids on its first volunteer curbside recycling program. - Jim Larsen / Whidbey News-Times
Vanessa Thompson, Island County Solid Waste attendant, rearranges brown glass in the container at the Oak Harbor recycling center Tuesday. What to do with glass is one of the questions up in the air as the county calls for bids on its first volunteer curbside recycling program.
— image credit: Jim Larsen / Whidbey News-Times

A voluntary curbside recycling program may finally be coming to residents of unincorporated portions of Whidbey Island, the town of Coupeville and the city of Langley this year.

The Island County commissioners decided earlier this month to ask for bids from any companies willing to pick up recyclable materials from homes. County officials want to offer a single-stream service, which means people don’t have to sort the materials.

Commissioner John Dean said it’s time to move forward with curbside recycling.

“Most of the emails I’ve gotten are from people that can’t believe we don’t do this already,” he said. “They think we’re back in the stone age.”

Island County Public Works Director Bill Oakes said county officials have been looking into the issue over the last year.

Island Disposal currently picks up garbage from about 9,000 customers on Whidbey. A year ago, the company offered the county a proposal for a curbside recycling service. The company proposed to charge customers $6.40 a month for twice-monthly pickup of non-sorted recyclables — that is, recyclables all lumped together in one container.

The problem, Oakes said, was that the company wanted to charge all garbage customers the recycling fee whether or not they were willing to participate in recycling.

“From their business model, they couldn’t make it work unless recycling was mandatory,” Oakes said.

Also, Island Disposal didn’t want to pick up glass.

County officials didn’t accept Island Disposal’s proposal, but set up a series of community meetings to talk about what people want. Dean said they heard from everyone from diehard recyclers to those who said “they would recycle over their dead body.”

As a result, officials decided to see if a company was interested in offering a voluntary service to the community.

Oakes said officials in Coupeville and Langley tentatively agreed to partner with the county.

Oakes explained that the county is asking for several different bids for voluntary, single-stream recycling pickup. The most unique thing about the bid request is that the county wants to set up a system by which the company would rebate a portion of the proceeds from selling recyclable materials back to the residents.

“It would be an incentive to recycle more,” Oakes said, adding that the system would also keep county officials and citizens more aware of commodity prices.

Right now, the value of recyclable materials is very low and many companies can’t even find buyers. Oakes admits that it’s not the best time to start a new recycling program, but he’s optimistic that the world economy will recover.

Commissioner Helen Price Johnson said she’s concerned that the company that picks up recycling will simply dump it into the landfill.

“As a rate payer, I would be paying twice for stuff that’s going to the same landfill,” she said.

Oakes, in response, said there’s really no way to force companies to recycle the material they pick up.

In addition to the rebates, the county is asking for bids for recycling pickup with and without garbage pickup. They also want proposals for recycling pickup with and without glass.

The problem with glass, Oakes explained, is that it’s not worth anything as a commodity, even in good times.

“It’s much easier to make it from sand than to recycle it,” he said.

Also, glass tends to contaminate the commodities, especially paper, when it’s co-mingled. That makes the paper less valuable.

Glass makes up 13 percent of the county’s waste stream and it’s a dense, bulky material. Oakes estimates that the county currently recycles about 26 percent of solid waste, but the goal is 50 percent. It would be hard to reach the goal without glass recycling.

On the other hand, Oakes pointed out that glass is an inert material that wouldn’t cause much harm to the environment if it ends up in a landfill.

Oakes said he’s spoken to people at both Island Disposal and Waste Management, a company that currently offers recycling pickup on Camano Island for $7 a month. He expects that both companies, and possible others, will make proposals.

According to Oakes, the county will officially advertise the request for bids later this month and possibly make a selection by March. The goal is to have the curbside pickup of recyclables available this year.

Community Events, April 2014

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