Too much garbage on Whidbey
June 25, 2008 · Updated 12:15 PM
"Langley's Ken Dvorak dumps off a load of glass bottles at Island Recycling. Glass does not make much money on the recyclables market, but the act of recycling it will help the county reduce the size of its waste stream over the next few years.Matt Johnson / staff photoIsland County residents buy too much stuff. Hundreds of tons of inexpensive toasters, color televisions, Pez dispensers, plastic wrappers, and all manner of other household goods and trash are getting trucked off the island every day on their way to a landfill in Oregon. The worst of it is that we obviously don't need all that stuff, because we are throwing more and more of it away every day.This was Dave Bonvouloir's assessment of the county's growing garbage load. Bonvouloir, the county's solid waste director, has garbage on his mind more than usual this month as he travels from city to city to promote the county's new solid waste management plan and the plan's ultimate goal: to stop county residents from buying and throwing away things they never needed in the first place. It took Bonvouloir, his department, and a number of elected officials and citizens 18 months to produce the 125-page document, which calls for $1.5 million in expenditures over the next six years to keep the county's waste stream under control. Boiled down to its most elemental form, all those pages and all that money indicate one overriding conclusion.The only way we can get a handle on waste is to get people to buy less, Bonvouloir said Wednesday while selling the plan to the Langley City Council.Island County residents produce 150 to 200 tons of garbage every day. That added up to 38,459 total tons for 1999. This year, Whidbey Island residents will throw away 8 percent more than they did in 1999. Camano Island residents toss out 17 percent more.If we keep it up, Bonvouloir said, getting rid of all this garbage is going to start to cost more, which is something residents will notice when they get their garbage bill. The county's solid waste plan is what will stand between islanders and increases in garbage rates for the next six years -- if it works. The plan will have the county spending $430,000 to educate county residents about how to reduce their garbage production, and about $1.1 million to expand the county facilities that dispose of that garbage. With a high level of participation and a little luck, the program laid out in the plan will keep garbage disposal rates at about $80 a ton for some time to come. In fact, Bonvouloir said, the rate might drop this year, which would allow the county to give residents a price break.Recycling not the only answerRecycling is not the total answer to Island County's waste problem, Bonvouloir said. People who live in Island County do a good job of recycling. Last year, 32.2 percent of everything county residents threw away was recycled. But most recyclables do not have a good sale price, which means the county has to pay local recyclers such as Island Recycling to collect and ship some materials. Aluminum, clear glass, cardboard and newsprint are the only money makers right now, Bonvouloir said.The rest of it is a crap shoot, he said.The county and its waste disposal contractor, Island Disposal, will not make it easier to recycle in the future. A curbside recycling program is not in the solid waste plan. Island Disposal employees do pick through garbage to pull out money-making recyclables, but the company does not recycle the breadth of materials accepted by Island Recycling and Oak Harbor Recycling.Still, Bonvouloir said, county residents can reduce the amount of waste that goes into landfills. He said it would hardly be a stretch for individuals, couples, families, and businesses to recycle at least 50 percent of what they throw away. This is where the education programs will make a big difference, teaching people to change their garbage habits. The programs work especially well with school-age children.Kids will come home and give their parents hell, Bonvouloir said.The county will have to weather other recycling challenges over the next few years. First, it will have to find a new recycling contractor to handle recycling services on the Northend of Whidbey Island. Oak Harbor Recycling is no longer willing to provide those services for the county. Then, the solid waste department will have to carve out extra room at its Coupeville facility for overflows of garbage and recyclables. In the event that Coupeville's garbage and recycling compactors fail, the facility has only one day's worth of storage space for those materials. That project will cost the county about $442,000.One offshoot of recycling that could help reduce the size of the county's waste stream is greencycling. Every year, thousands of tons of organic materials, such as lawn clippings, tree branches, and even household vegetable wastes pass through the Coupeville transfer station. The yard waste is chipped and given for free to anyone who wants it. If homeowners, business people, and even restaurant owners began to compost all that waste, Bonvouloir said, that would greatly reduce the amount of waste the county has to deal with. Plus, all that compost could be used to improve local soils, he said. Stay home with garbageRecycling may help the county in another area -- reducing the number of individual trips to the dump and reducing the cost to the county to process garbage. Each truck or car that crosses the scales at the Coupeville transfer station costs the county the same amount of time and money, whether that vehicle is hauling garbage for 200 households or just one. To cut down on the staff time needed to serve everyone who brings in a single bag of garbage or a pickup truck full of refuse, the new solid waste plan will encourage county residents to sign up for curbside garbage pick up.We would like to see a lot more people sign up for curbside pickup, Bonvouloir said.Bonvouloir is asking city councils in Langley, Coupeville and Oak Harbor to approve the solid waste plan for areas under their authority. Island County and the Department of Ecology have already signed off on the plan. Once that approval is unanimous, the solid waste department will begin the programs laid out in the plan. Bonvouloir said education programs funded by the plan should start by the second half of 2001.What will the waste plan buy?Island County will spend $1.5 million to make certain it can keep up with all the garbage its residents can produce during the next six years. Here is what that money will pay for:*Economic incentives for reuse organizations -- $30,000*Classroom and public waste reduction education -- $430,000*Bayview Transfer Station expansion -- $122,000*Coupeville emergency storage expansion -- $126,000*Camano Transfer Station improvements -- $103,000*Coupeville Transfer Station improvements -- $442,000*Purchase of Coupeville buffer lands -- $220,000*Development of three monitoring wells -- $60,000. "