By early next year all of Tacoma could be having garbage collected every other week, as opposed to weekly as is done now. City staff estimates making this switch could save the city between $900,000 and $1.3 million per year.
Tacoma City Council heard a presentation on the topic during its May 8 study session. Mike Slevin, an assistant director in the Public Works Department, discussed an ambitious goal of the city – to have 70 percent of trash diverted to recycling by 20030. Currently about 30 percent of recyclable material has been diverted from the garbage.
He explained that collecting garbage every other week can help the department save money on fuel and vehicle maintenance and make the overall system more efficient.
Residents will not see their rates reduced, but by making the system more efficient, they could avoid limit price increases in the future. A council member asked Slevin why people will not see their rates cut. He said the public should view this as making the system more efficient as opposed to offering less service.
Customers can request garbage cans twice as large as their current ones and still pay the same monthly rate.
Last July two neighborhoods were chosen for a pilot program on every other week garbage collection. One is in South Tacoma, the other in the North End. Through February, city staff closely monitored what was disposed of and how much recyclable material was not thrown the brown recycling containers.
Data collected showed that in these neighborhoods the diversion rate was 58 percent. In the rest of the city it is 48 percent. This was partly a result of residents of these areas placing food scraps in the brown yard waste bins, an effort that just recently expanded citywide. And fuel cost per route per day decreased by 42 percent.
“We felt this is a good measure of what is going on out there,” said Gary Kato of the Solid Waste Management Division. He said there is nothing else the department can do to achieve the level of savings as shifting to every other week garbage pickup.
Slevin said the hope is that customers will opt for smaller cans as a result of the city’s outreach efforts to promote placing food scraps in the brown recycling bins. Slevin said the city may do more advertising to promote such activities.
Councilmember Joe Lonergan expressed concern that shifting to smaller containers takes away too much profit for the city and thus is bad fiscal sense. He also expressed concern that lower rates for smaller cans favors single people or couples without children while putting a burden on larger families.
Councilmember Fey noted the cost of hauling garbage. The city’s landfill will close next year. The other major landfill in the area is in Graham. A major driver of the city’s recycling efforts is the fact that eventually that landfill will be full and Tacoma will have to transport its garbage to Oregon or eastern Washington.
Councilmember Ryan Mello said he and his colleagues are hearing from citizens regarding the smells from cans that only get emptied every other week, and also complaints about pests. He suggested staff assemble a list of frequently asked questions on this topic, with advice on dealing with issues, which could be available to the public. Customers in the pilot areas were surveyed on this. A phone survey found 43 percent liked the program, 31 percent were neutral and 23 percent did not like it.
Councilmember Marty Campbell noted some apartment complexes in the city have no recycling bins, thus everything is thrown in the garbage dumpster. He suggested addressing that to divert some material from the waste stream.