In little more than a year, curbside recycling in Spokane could get easier and bins much fuller.
Waste Management announced this month that it plans to build a regional recycling center in Spokane County. The proposal was announced shortly after it was rated the best concept among three reviewed by a Spokane Regional Solid Waste System committee.
City officials are negotiating with the company to build the sorting center – called a materials recovery facility – that will allow Spokane and other area trash collection systems to launch modern recycling programs similar to those available in Tacoma, Bellevue and Seattle.
“As some point, once this is all up and running, people in Spokane could be able to recycle virtually anything that is recyclable,” said Scott Windsor, Spokane’s solid waste director.
At the curb, the 18-gallon bins that require collection workers to sort materials by hand will go away. In their place, new rolling carts will hold all recyclables, to be sorted at the recycling center.
The announcement follows two other curbside recycling expansions in Spokane. Beginning in July, yard waste customers could place food waste and used pizza boxes in their green bins for composting. And for the first time, colored plastic bottles and jugs were added to the list of recyclables collected at the curb.
But those changes are nothing compared to the possibilities under the new system, officials say. Spokane’s system almost certainly will greatly expand paper and plastics that are accepted, said Ken Gimpel, Waste Management’s municipal relations manager for Eastern Washington and North Idaho. The sorting facility will handle milk cartons, juice boxes, small scrap metal, old pots and pans, foil and almost any kind of paper, on top of almost everything already accepted at the curb.
Gimpel said he hopes the $12 million center, proposed for the West Plains next to the Waste-to-Energy Plant, is operating by the end of 2011. He said it will employ about 25 workers.
Waste Management, which owns 29 similar recycling centers, already is a significant player in the region’s trash system. It runs trash collection in most areas of Spokane County outside Spokane, and its subsidiary, Wheelabrator Technologies, has a contract to operate Spokane’s trash incinerator.
The Regional Solid Waste System, which governs the incinerator and waste transfer stations, requested proposals for the recycling center, but the contract only will affect the city’s curbside collection, and details will be negotiated with the city’s solid waste department, officials say.
To move forward, it will need approval of the Spokane City Council.
Even so, Gimpel said, Waste Management plans to use the sorting center for recyclables the company already picks up. That means Spokane Valley and many other areas in the county also will make the switch to the new system. He said the plant also will sort recyclables from North Idaho and central Washington.
The new system will require automated collection trucks and new bins. The city of Spokane has 19 recycling trucks that are about a decade old, Windsor said. They will be replaced by 14 automated trucks. Also needed: about 65,000 new bins.
A garbage reserve fund that’s paid for through trash bills has the money to cover the cost of the trucks and new bins, Windsor said. He said he expects the city’s cost to drop off recyclables to the new center will be higher than what it pays to Spokane Recycling or Evergreen Recycling, the companies that take city and county recyclables. However, he doesn’t expect that price to be high enough to force an increase in fees paid by trash customers.
Windsor said that the city has about 22 workers who collect residential curbside recycling – a number that likely will decline in the new automated pickup system.
The program eventually could cause rates to rise if recycling increases so much that a significant number of customers switch to smaller garbage bins, reducing their monthly collection fees, Windsor said.
City officials say they won’t release cost specifics until the contract with Waste Management is solidified and ready for City Council review. Yet to be decided: the size of the carts – 68 or 95 gallons – and the collection schedule – weekly or every other week.
K.C. Traver, who leads the Solid Waste Advisory Committee, said he’s hopeful that improved recycling will reduce the amount of trash shipped by train to a landfill in south-central Washington. Last year, 16 percent of waste received by the regional system was buried in landfills.
“The existing (incineration) plant only has so much capacity,” Traver said. “We need to do a better job of recovering recyclables from the waste stream.”
Waste Management expects a 40 percent increase in the amount of recyclables collected at the curb based on the experience of other communities that have made the switch, Gimpel said.
Jim Wavada, environmental planner with the Department of Ecology, said the state encourages the switch.
“We’re pretty comfortable that it’s going to be an increase in recycling,” Wavada said.
Still, he warned that some recyclables could end up in the trash because contamination can make commodities almost useless. One of the biggest problems is broken glass that mixes with paper and plastics, according to a Department of Ecology report released in June about recycling programs in southwestern Washington.
Spokane has a greater incentive to recycle glass than other communities because most of its garbage is burned in the incinerator. Glass doesn’t burn, so it ends up in a landfill anyway.
Most paper recycled at the curb in Spokane is used by Inland Empire Paper, which is owned by the Cowles Co., owner of The Spokesman-Review.
Fiber Reclaim, the Inland Empire subsidiary that buys recycled paper for Inland’s Millwood paper mill, will continue to buy Spokane recyclables from curbside collection under the new system, but only if contamination levels remain low, said Fiber Reclaim President and General Manger Tom Baranowski.
He said most companies that buy recycled material strongly prefer glass to be collected separately because it can cause equipment failures, safety issues and wasted recyclable material.
He said Fiber Reclaim buys about 800 tons of recycled paper a month from Spokane.
“My experience in purchasing newsprint from a (materials recovery facility) is quality is much less,” Baranowski said. “If quality isn’t there, there’s nothing we can do to support it.”
The Department of Ecology recycling report from June recommends keeping glass separate at curbside collections. That would be similar to Tacoma, where customers have a bin for most recyclables and a separate small container for glass.
Gimpel said he’s confident that the new sorting center will handle glass in a single stream.
“This facility will be able to process mixed recyclables – that includes glass,” Gimpel said. “We’re trying to design a state-of-the-art facility.”