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County returns to roadside recycling effort

If Island County were to get a grade for recycling, the mark would likely be failing.

A recent survey found recovery of the county’s household recycling rate has fallen to a 13-year low of 28 percent, far below the state’s goal of 50 percent.

The low recovery rate could be due to lack of roadside recycling collection on Whidbey, outside of the city of Oak Harbor and Naval Air Station base housing. Camano Island residents have a roadside recycle option that is now one-year old, but the rest of the county’s residents are on their own for recycling.

The current recycling system places the burden on families to separate, sort, store and haul their bottles, cans and papers to a recycle center. This approach typically nets a recycle rate of 30 percent or less, according to Jerry Mingo, Island County’s recycle and hazardous waste coordinator.

The county’s new proposal is to provide both trash and recyclables collection services, which is expected to increase the recycle rate to 46 percent. To discuss the proposal, the county is holding a series of three community meetings beginning Oct. 19.

In August, the town of Coupeville considered a proposal in which Island Disposal would offer curbside recycling to residents at a cost of $6.95 a month in addition to the fee they already pay for trash pick up. Town officials halted the proposal last month upon word of Island County’s curbside collection proposal.

“The town has been very interested in getting curbside recycling going and they didn’t want to be redundant,” Mingo said.

But Dave Campbell, owner of Island Recycling, a small family-owned recycling business that’s served Whidbey for 30 years, isn’t happy about Island County’s proposal, which he calls “an eventual death sentence” for his business. Most of last year, his Freeland recycling business operated at a loss, he said.

In Campbell’s view, the new county program would create a guaranteed income for Island Disposal, Whidbey Island’s state-regulated trash collection franchise owned by Waste Connections.

“I’m dead set against the idea that it be mandatory. If it’s voluntary, that’s fine,” Campbell said.

Until recently, Island Disposal had hand-picked recyclables from residential trash at their Coupeville recovery facility, but workers reportedly only recovered five to seven percent of recyclable materials from the waste. Waste Connections cut the sorting program this year for economic reasons.

Mingo said it’s a common misconception that Island Disposal still separates recyclables.

County officials said that a roadside collection program would not hurt Island Recycling, but that such a system would likely increase recycling in Island County.

“Counties that have recycle rates above 40 percent offer residential roadside collection and maintain recycle centers for those who prefer to haul their own trash and recyclables. The proposed roadside recycling service will not affect public access to county-operated recycle parks or transfer stations,” according to a county press release.

Island County has six recycling centers.

“We’ve been very static with our recycling rate,” Mingo said. “The only way to advance recycling is through roadside collection.”

This isn’t the first time the county has sought a roadside recyclables program.

In 2006, county officials explored other options to increase recycling rates. Officials settled on a roadside recycling program; however, the county could not find any interested collection services. No proposals were received and the idea was dropped.

County officials’ decision to revisit the idea is bound to draw passionate supporters and opponents, Mingo said. This time, instead of taking bids, the county will go with state regulated pricing and work with Waste Connections, he said.

“There are those that are very in favor and those that are very opposed,” he said.

Island County officials hope to increase its recycle rate so it can comply with Washington’s “Waste Not Washington Act.”

In 1989, the Legislature passed the act, which established a goal to reach a 50 percent recycling rate in the state by 1995. However, statewide recycling only rose to 35 percent by 2002, prompting the Legislature to renew its 50 percent recycling goal with the hope it could be obtained by 2007.

The state’s recycle rate only reached 43 percent by 2007, according to Department of Ecology, which is still better than the national rate of 33 percent.

Have your say on recycling

Island County Public Works will host three community meetings this month to discuss a proposal that would add residential recycling service to the regular trash collection service provided to Island Disposal’s 9,500 customers.

Community meetings will be held on Monday, Oct. 19, in Oak Hall Room 306, Skagit Valley College, Oak Harbor campus at 6 p.m.; on Wednesday, Oct. 21, in the Coupeville Recreation Hall at 7 p.m.; and Thursday, Oct. 22, in Reed Hall, St. Hubert Catholic Church, Langley, at 6 p.m.

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