It wasn’t a shocking revelation, but Spokane Mayor David Condon’s unveiling of the city’s new blue recycling carts on Thursday signaled that Spokane County’s recycling system has finally caught up with many other larger cities.
In October, most trash customers with Spokane County will move to a new single-stream recycling system. Curbside recycling customers will dump all recyclables in a single container that will be sorted at Waste Management’s Spokane Material and Recycling Technology Center on the West Plains.
“It allows us to be more green, be able to recycle more and allows our citizens to be part of that,” Condon said at a news conference where the city parks its garbage and recycling trucks.
Here are a few answers to questions about how the new system will work:
Q.Who are affected by the new system?
A.The 66,000 residential customers in the city of Spokane and 44,000 residential customers of Waste Management in Spokane County, including in Spokane Valley, who already have recycling services.
Q. When will I get my new cart?
A. The city of Spokane will start delivering new carts the week of Sept. 24. It will take about five weeks for the carts to be delivered. The week of Oct. 8, Waste Management will start delivering recycling carts to its customers, a process that could take as long as six weeks.
Q. When will it start?
A. After Oct. 1, any city of Spokane customer who has a new cart should start using it on their days for recycling pickup. Waste Management will provide all its customers with 18-month calendars showing each of their collection days. Once they get their carts, they will use it on their next recycling day as noted on the calendar.
Q. Is single-stream new to the area?
A. No. Some bigger cities in Washington have had single-stream recycling for several years. Coeur d’Alene and Post Falls already made the switch. It’s not even new to Spokane County. Sunshine Disposal and Recycling implemented single-stream curbside pickup late last year for about 1,400 residential customers on the West Plains.
Q. How often will my recyclables be collected?
A. Every week if you live in the city of Spokane, and every other week if you are served by Waste Management. Sunshine Disposal collects every other week.
Condon said Spokane opted to collect weekly in part because the population is more dense.
“We saw it as a better customer service to go every week. You don’t have to remember one week is garbage, the next week is garbage plus,” he said.
Waste Management opted for every-other-week service to help keep costs down.
“There’s more than enough capacity to last that two weeks,” said Ken Gimpel, Waste Management’s municipal relations manager.
Q. What should I do with my old bin?
A. Keep it or recycle it by putting it in your new recycling bin.
Q. Won’t the glass get broken and cause problems in a mixed system?
A. Officials with the state Department of Ecology have generally recommended against placing glass within single-stream systems because broken glass can be hard to sort out of the stream, and paper mills and other businesses that take the material often complain that glass damages their equipment. But Waste Management says its sorting centers have kept contamination low and that the Spokane plant will have the most modern technology available.
Q. What changes will there be with the material I can recycle?
A. The new system allows for significantly increased collection of different materials. See the graphic for details. Spokane and Waste Management will collect the same materials. Sunshine collects the same materials except for glass. The only material currently collected at the curb that no longer will be is vehicle batteries.
Q. How will the system change?
A. Currently, recyclables are sorted at the curb into trucks with separate compartments. In the new systems, trucks will collect material like garbage is now. From there, the material will be taken to Waste Management’s new sorting center on the West Plains, where it will travel on a series of belts. Some material will be sorted by hand by some of the center’s nearly 40 workers. Some will be sorted by magnets and other specialized equipment.
Q. How much more material will be recycled?
A. Waste Management predicts that recycling will increase by 40 percent under the new system. The city of Spokane estimates it will earn about $400,000 more a year selling the materials as a result of the increase.
Q. Will my trash bill increase?
A. It won’t as a result of the new system. The city estimates that it will save $425,000 a year because it will be able to eliminate four of the city’s 10 pickup routes because workers no longer will have to take the time to sort items at the curb. Those four workers will be shifted to the city’s commercial recycling program initially, said Scott Windsor, Spokane’s solid waste director. Eventually some jobs may be lost through attrition depending on how the changes to the residential program affect the commercial side. The city purchased 14 new trucks, which can be used for recycling or garbage pickup, at a cost of about $4.3 million, and the new carts cost about $3.8 million, but city officials said they needed to replace the city’s recycling fleet anyway.
Waste Management bought 20 new trucks fueled by compressed natural gas to make the switch.
Windsor added that he expects costs related to injuries should also decrease because the recycling collectors have one of the department’s most dangerous jobs.
“They’re the ones that have the most slips, trips and falls,” he said.
Q. What will happen to the company that has been handling Spokane’s recycling?
A. Much of the city program has been handled by Spokane Recycling, which was purchased last year by Waste Management. Its employees will transfer to the new plant.