County commissioners to ponder recycling proposal

It may be an all-or-nothing proposition for Island Disposal and its proposal to launch a curbside recycling program.

Island County commissioners are expected to make a decision on Nov. 7, about the recycling program for Island Disposal’s residential customers.

“The challenge for the commissioners will be if we’re asked to consider making curbside recycling services mandatory to all islanders who have curbside garbage services,” Commissioner John Dean said. “This may be necessary so that the service provider can afford to offer curbside recycling at all.

“It may be an all-or-nothing proposition for them,” Dean said.

After hearing the results of an island-wide survey, Island County commissioners have asked Whidbey’s curbside service hauler to present its recycling proposals.

Island County Solid Waste and Island Disposal distributed about 10,100 surveys to local trash service customers over the summer to find out if residents want at-home recycling. Customers returned 2,642 surveys.

Mixed reviews so far

Most said they supported the proposed recycling system; 49 percent were in favor. But many were not; 43 percent were opposed and 8 percent were undecided.

The survey was not scientific, however. And most of those who filled out the survey weren’t told that the company wants to raise bills more than $60 a year to help pay for the curbside recycling program.

Island Disposal said curbside collection of mixed recyclables would cost customers an extra $5.50 per month, said Jerry Mingo, Island County recycling coordinator.

Increase on the horizon

Island Disposal officials have said garbage bills will rise even without the new program; the company said it needs a $4 per month hike in residential bills even if the enhanced recycling proposal is not adopted.

The increase would maintain Island Disposal’s existing system, which currently loses money, Mingo said.

Since the survey was released, company officials said Island Disposal will apply for a general rate increase for its residential customers no matter if the recycling service is added or not.

The company claims that Island Disposal can no longer operate the system at a financial loss and wants to ask the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission for a residential rate increase, Mingo said.

Mingo said considering the needed general increase, the recycling proposal isn’t such a bad deal. It would total about $1.50 beyond the likely $4 increase.

Dean said a cost increase may be unavoidable.

“In a perfect world, we would have the option of allowing people who want curbside recycling to pay a little more and get it,” Dean said.

“In that perfect world, others who don’t want to pay more, could opt out. Unfortunately, we live in an economic world, not a perfect world,” he added.

Not knowing about the general rate increase may have played into the results of the survey. The information became available only after some survey’s were already distributed.

Only the 24 percent that were surveyed at Bayview Farmers Market, the county fair and county recycling sites were informed of the approximate $4 increase, for example.

Of those, 43 percent indicated that they would sign up for curbside collection services should curbside recycling services be added.

Mingo said recyclers can save some money by using the proposed system, but less than a quarter of those asked said they could actually reduce trash far enough to make it work. Only 572 Island Disposal customers claimed to be able to downsize the number of the trash cans they set out, or reduce the frequency of trash collection, if the proposal were adopted.

Currently, the majority of those questioned, 74 percent, are self-haulers who drop off their recyclables at one of the collection sites.

Island County Solid Waste Division asked for the curbside recycling proposal so the county can improve the recovery rate of recyclables from residential trash at the company’s sorting facility. The recovery rate is currently less than 5 percent.

Island Disposal has offered to provide fee-based, every-other-week collection of mixed recyclables — which includes cardboard, tinned and aluminum cans, plastic bottles and mixed-waste paper.

A 96-gallon collection cart would be provided, which can help recover 28 percent or more of the solid waste stream, Mingo said.

Board has questions

Despite the mixed reviews by local customers, Dean said exploring the recycling proposal further is worthwhile.

“A little more than half wants to make it more convenient with curbside service,” he said. “A little less than half doesn’t mind taking it to recycling centers as part of their monthly errand schedule, especially if its going to save a few bucks. And, then there are others who still don’t recycle nor do they answer surveys.”

Dean said he receives periodic calls and e-mails from around the county regarding the need to promote recycling.

“Most of us who live in Island County know its social and environmental value,” he said. “But the survey so far shows we’re still split nearly 50/50 in our interest in curbside service.”

Commissioner Mac McDowell agreed.

“There is no real consensus. That’s the only thing that was really clear,” McDowell said.

Rate hike questioned

The commissioners want to hear from Waste Connections, the parent company of Island Disposal, in November to get more details about the proposal.

McDowell said he also wants to know more about why a rate increase is necessary.

“I don’t understand why performance has dropped off,” McDowell said. “It seems to be a legitimate question when they are asking for a rate increase.”

It may not be the system but a company internal problem that needs to be fixed to improve the recovery rate, McDowell said.

“Maybe they need to figure out a way to be more efficient,” he said.

McDowell also said there is room for improvement by educating the public about what’s already available. Recycling is the right thing to do, but commissioners want to be certain that all bases are covered before asking residents to pay more.

“There is no clear indication (in the survey results) people want to pay more for it,” he said.

Commissioner Phil Bakke said he strongly supports recycling, but he also has a catalogue of questions for the company before he will to sign off on the proposal.

He questioned the practicality of 96-gallon recycle bins.

“They call it curbside recycling, but most people in the county don’t have curbs,” he said “It’s not easy to handle these cans.

“It seems like they are trying to fit an urban solution to Island County,” Bakke added.

He also wants to know why glass was not included in the service.

Bakke also questioned some of the math. The $1.50 increase the company would take doesn’t seem enough to cover the cost to implement the program.

“That doesn’t pass the straight face test,” he said. “How can you add a fleet of trucks, additional runs and continue to process the recyclables for $1.50?” he asked.

Michaela Marx Wheatley can be reached at 221-5300 or mmarxwheatley@south

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