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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spokane plans to scale back recycling collection to every other week

On the tipping floor, recycling gathered in Spokane is dumped Friday into a hopper at the Spokane Materials and Recycling Technology (SMaRT) Center at 2902 S. Geiger Blvd. Once in the hopper, the material will travel through a maze of processes, both automated and manual, to separate the important products. The difficulty in sorting contaminated recyclables and selling them on the open market has the city of Spokane scaling back to recycling pickup every other week rather than every week.  (Jesse Tinsley/The Spokesman-Review)
On the tipping floor, recycling gathered in Spokane is dumped Friday into a hopper at the Spokane Materials and Recycling Technology (SMaRT) Center at 2902 S. Geiger Blvd. Once in the hopper, the material will travel through a maze of processes, both automated and manual, to separate the important products. The difficulty in sorting contaminated recyclables and selling them on the open market has the city of Spokane scaling back to recycling pickup every other week rather than every week. (Jesse Tinsley/The Spokesman-Review)

The city of Spokane will cut the frequency of recycling collection in half.

The change, made in response to increasing financial losses in its recycling program, will not be implemented immediately. City officials will plan how to reroute recycling trucks over the next several months and educate the public on the new system before it announces the new schedule in 2021.

The changes were approved unanimously by the Spokane City Council on Tuesday night.

By reducing collection to every other week, the city plans to save $900,000 annually and cut seven jobs through attrition.

The city expects to lose $1.4 million in 2020, a substantial increase since 2013, when the recycling system nearly broke even.

Spokane is one of numerous cities to find challenges in recouping what it spends on collecting recycling. The market for recyclable materials has dramatically shifted in recent years, following a new government policy in China that substantially cut back on the materials it could import.

Several other cities have chosen to either charge residents more for recycling or reduce service. Seattle, Tacoma and Olympia all offer residents recycling collection on a biweekly basis.

If the current blue cart is not large enough, prolific recyclers will be allowed to upgrade to a larger cart. The change will not impact garbage collection.

The city collects about 21,000 tons of recycling from its 70,000 residential solid waste customers every year.

Scott Simmons, the city’s director of Public Works and interim city administrator, told the City Council there’s uncertainty in the recycling market.

“We are looking actively as to how we repurpose some of the recycled material that has a negative commodity value,” Simmons said, such as glass, mixed paper and mixed plastics.

Since 2013, the city’s recycling program has been single stream, meaning the spectrum of recyclable materials is collected from a single bin on a resident’s curb. The city hauls the recycling to the Spokane Materials and Recycling Technology (SMaRT) Center, operated by Waste Management.

At the SMaRT Center, Waste Management processes and sorts the recyclables. Its brokers find a buyer for the materials.

The city earns the proceeds from the sale of recyclables, but pays Waste Management to process and sell them.

With demand for recyclables plummeting, the city is no longer able to cover the costs of the recycling program. Meanwhile, the city has seen a slight uptick in the amount of nonrecyclable trash that makes its way into the recycling stream, further increasing processing costs.

Separately, the City Council approved 2.9% annual rate increases to solid waste collection and disposal, as well a $2 fee for self-hauling to the city’s Waste-to-Energy facility.

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