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County recycling rate at 51 percent

Half of residents have blue bins, official says

Residents of Spokane County are getting the hang of recycling. According to the Spokane Regional Solid Waste System and the Washington state Department of Ecology, the county recycled 331,793 tons of various materials in 2010. That’s 51 percent of the 646,149 tons of municipal waste that was generated in 2010.

“Spokane County is recycling at a higher rate than the state average,” said Suzanne Tresko, recycling coordinator for the Spokane Regional Solid Waste System. The state average is 49 percent.

It’s the Department of Ecology that conducts the survey with help from regional waste management organizations across the state. The survey includes waste generated from private households as well as recycling businesses and businesses that recycle as part of their production process.

“We help distribute the survey locally to places like Earthworks Recycling,” Tresko said. “It takes the Department of Ecology some time to go through all the data and figure out that nothing is double counted.”

One thing that helps Spokane County’s recycling totals is the Waste to Energy plant.

Tresko said any solid waste sent to the plant and burned to create energy is counted as recycling, according to the Ecology Department.

“We know a certain amount of material goes there, so we add that to the recycling rate,” Tresko said. “It’s not a huge amount.”

Not everyone has a curbside recycling bin.

“Only about half of Spokane County residents have a blue bin,” Tresko said.

Within city limits, residential households must pay for garbage service, which includes a recycling bin. Outside city limits there is no mandatory garbage collection, so recycling takes a little more effort.

“There is no excuse for not recycling just because you don’t have a blue bin,” Tresko said. “There are plenty of transfer stations.”

The Department of Ecology has been tracking recycling statistics for more than 20 years. The first recycling rate for Spokane County, 20 percent, was posted in 1987. For the last 10 years, Spokane has been above or just below the average state rate.

Tresko said she’d like to see more people compost garden and food waste on their property.

“It’s great to use the green bin, but if you compost right there in your yard we don’t have to transport stuff anywhere,” Tresko said.

A hot recycling issue right now is the ban of plastic shopping bags. Some municipalities on the West Side, including Seattle and Bellingham, are adopting such bans.

Tresko said it’s her impression that those bans are put in place to protect marine wildlife that eat or get tangled in the plastic bags.

“A ban of plastic bags is not a single-layered issue,” Tresko said.

Almost every grocery store collects plastic bags and sends them to recycling, and that’s a great way to deal with plastic bags, Tresko said.

“I also appreciate all the signs I see at the stores reminding shoppers to remember their reusable bags,” she added.

When it really comes down to it, it doesn’t matter that much which shopping bag is used.

“If you are concerned about sustainability and your carbon footprint, the bag isn’t the biggest deal,” Tresko said. “It’s what you put in that shopping bag that really matters.”