City edges up to 70% recycle rate; plastic grocery bag ban considered by Council


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By Jack Mayne

The recycling rate is up in Burien while the Council mulls the possibility of banning plastic grocery bags. The issues were long discussions at the Monday (April 23) meeting of the Council study session.

Jeff Gaisford, King County recycling and environmental services manager, told the Burien Council the county has now achieved a 54 percent recycling rate but the old actions that got Burien that far won’t work for the city to get to a 70 percent goal.

Plastic grocery bags
Some people have suggested that single-use plastic bags be outlawed in Burien. There are 100 billion of them used in the United States and fewer than 1 percent are recycled, said Burien’s deputy public works director, Brian Roberts, but many want a ban.

Roberts told the Council that even with some bans, millions of bags are blowing around in the wind and can be found all over the city as well as in Puget Sound and the Pacific Ocean. A scientific journal reports one third of the plastic found in the ocean is plastic bags.

Roberts said that once in the environment, plastic bags are remarkably durable because plastic does not decompose like a paper bag does, it degrades – it is estimated it takes between 400 and 1,000 years.

The bags break down into smaller and smaller pieces whic impose an extreme danger to macro sea life. Page Ocean crusaders say 100,000 marine creatures and over 1 million sea birds die each year from ingesting plastic – it plugs their digestive system and they starve to death.

The total ban on single use plastic bags was recommended, he said.

Community dialogue urged
“We should encourage dialogue with the community to make sure we have common sense exceptions to that we are not imposing undue hardship on particular businesses or their customers.”

Roberts that there should be “common sense” implementation and a fee for paper bags as it common in Seattle and other cities that have banned plastic bags. He also suggested there by a way to exempt verified low income people from the fee of 5 cents.
Scott Iverson, owner of the Grocery Outlet store near City Hall, said he was concerned that the cost of paper bags is higher that a proposed 5 cent fee for paper bags that would be allowed under the proposed Burien ordinance. He said some cost 20 cents for one bag.

“We can buy plastic bags for less than a penny per bag,” Iverson said. “The brown bag as an option is a very expensive option for small businesses. Even a company of our size, 300 businesses, we could not compete and get a competitive price” on paper bags, unlike Safeway or Albertsons with thousands of stores.”

Recycling is up, but…
Gaisford said the county studies what is taken to the county landfill and 26 percent of the refuse is food and recyclable paper, “ and other pieces of the pie that are recyclable, like paper and metal, that are also going to the land fill, so we have a long way to go” noting the 37 percent in purple on the diagram. He said the county has worked to formulate plans to get the county (and cities) to 70 percent recycling.

He showed a slide that shows county efforts to increase recycling, including multifamily best practices and a Spanish language outreach.

Cart tags were used by Recology in Burien Burien and other test cities to see if such tags increase individual homeowners using “food scrap diversion” or if tags used on the trash containers more frequently helps get residents to support “sustained behavior change.” The tags “did increase participation in Burien,” Gaisford said adding the participation rate in Burien was much higher than the other areas of the county “and the participation stuck in Burien, “when they started to do it, they continued to do it.”

Working with apartments and the “multifamily sector” is harder, Gaisford said, because readily available space is not always available or managers are not interested in the program eve if the resident are, “so what we fount is that you have to work with the property manager,” and the residents.

He also noted that in multi-family apartment or condo units must have recycling infrastructure convenient or “folks just won’t do it.”

Dealing with diversity
Working with diverse communities, such as Burien, is helped by having ways to communicate better with those groups, and one such is the Latino Community Recycling Program. This was endorsed by Mayor Jimmy Matta.

Kevin Kelly, general manager of Recology CleanScapes, said his employee wholly owned company began weekly garbage and organics collection service to Burien in June 2014. Recology services about 10,000 residential customers in Burien and “just shy of a thousand commercial multifamily customers.

Quinn Apuzzo (center, above) is Recology’s “waste zero manager,” and said last year the company achieved a successful collection rate of 99.9 percent, “well below the contract required threshold of one house per thousand customers — we are closer to .14 misses per thousand customers.” Most of the 17,000 calls they did receive last year were related to setting up new services, vacation holds and “quite a few call on where the Recology store is, said Apuzzo.

Diverted 15,000 tons
She said Burien business and residential customers diverted over 15,000 tons of material from landfills, “which is significant.” That number does not include “the entire picture of the recycling efforts that are currently going on in the city, which leads me to the Recology store in Five Corners shopping center.” The Recology store is where people can drop off “hard to recycle materials” such as textiles, light bulbs and tubes, batteries and electronic waste amongst other items at no additional charge. The store also acts as a customer service center, said Apuzzo, along with a place to pay bills for find out about services.

The store also is a place where recycled items are sold to city residents.

“We sell things at the store that are either made from recycled items or “things that a meant to help display land fill waste,” Apuzzo said, as well as a community gathering spaces for workshops and community groups and a “green cleaning event” in celebration of Earth Day. The events are free and open to the public.

When asked how the company reaches out to non-English speakers, Apuzzo said their website at https://www.recology.com/recology-cleanscapes/burien/ and the site is translated into Spanish, Chinese, Russian, Korean and Vietnamese. They have staff who speak the various languages and a service that can translate phone calls when needed.

Roberts retiring
Burien’s deputy public works director, Brian Roberts, is retiring on Friday, April 27, said Public Works Director Maiya Andrews. Several Councilmembers at the Friday, April 23 study session lauded him as a great asset to the city and especially to the members of the Burien City Council.

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