Recycling in Island County being revisited

Recycling pickup service for rural Whidbey residents is back up for discussion after being kicked to the curb four years ago.

The cost and logistics of adding curbside recycling for residents living in unincorporated areas is being explored as part of a review of Island County solid waste disposal costs.

“We are in talks with Island Disposal about providing voluntary recycling services on Whidbey Island,” said Joantha Guthrie, manager of the solid waste division of Island County Public Works. “The talks are preliminary and no conclusive program has been proposed yet.”

One condition, however, seems certain: Participation would be voluntary. No garbage police will check to make sure residents comply, as became the fame and bane of the city of Seattle.

“We’re working really hard with haulers to see if we can get a voluntary recycling program going,” Guthrie said. “We are also looking at fees other counties charge for recycling and how other jurisdictions are handling recycling and paying for it.”

County commissioner Helen Price Johnson raised the recycling issue at a recent board meeting. She’s the only remaining commissioner on the board who voted to start curbside recycling service for rural areas four years ago.

That ordinance would have mandated that any resident using Island Disposal for garbage hauling would also have to pay additionally for recycling. But that decision was trashed when newly-elected Commissioner Jill Johnson and former Commissioner Kelly Emerson voted to rescind the ordinance. It effectively shut down five years of discussion, controversy and planning.

The decision was made on Earth Day.

While Whidbey-wide home recycling was widely praised by some as a long-awaited need, others deemed it too expensive, incomplete because glass wouldn’t be collected and not something that should be forced on taxpayers.

A voluntary recycling service is now being floated. It wouldn’t need county board approval, Guthrie explained, because it would not be an ordinance.

This time-around, Jill Johnson sounds open to curbside recycling, providing consumers have a choice.

“I really want to say ‘yes’ to a recycling program,” Johnson said in an interview. “It just feels like the right thing to do, but I am uncomfortable with making it a mandated service, especially when the economics don’t pencil out.

“If we can work with the service provider to start a voluntary program, even on a limited basis, I firmly believe the demand will be there.”

A combination of private companies and local governments provide recycling and trash services for Island County. Collected trash all gets dumped at the main Coupeville Solid Waste Facility where it’s processed for trucking to Republic Services Roosev​​elt Regional Landfill.

Residential and commercial trash pickup service in unincorporated Whidbey Island, the City of Langley and the Town of Coupeville is provided by Island Disposal. The City of Oak Harbor collects trash, recyclables and yard waste for its residents.

Both Oak Harbor and Coupeville provide curbside recycling.

Others wanting to recycle must travel to three county recycle parks on Whidbey Island. All of the material from the recycling hubs ends up at Island Recycling in Freeland, where is it condensed, smashed and crushed in many ways before being sold by the ton.

People self-hauling household garbage to the Coupeville Solid Waste Center are charged a $11 minimum fee. Of that amount, $7.50 goes to help the county pay for processing recycling and the household hazardous waste program, both which are free to residents.

It is the $11 minimum charge, known as the tipping fee, that is being evaluated for a possible increase.

Tipping fees are usually evaluated every three years, but several factors led the county to explore rate increases a year ahead of schedule, Guthrie explained.

In short, it’s costing more to run the solid waste program. A study by consultants found that Island County’s cost of supplying solid waste services has increased about 8 percent, Guthrie said.

The county hired Skumatz Economic Research Associates to conduct the rate study. The contract for the Boulder-based company is $25,000 for a year.

Rate studies typically offer a few options for policymakers to consider. The options would be reviewed by the Solid Waste Advisory Committee, a group of citizens, government officials and business owners, who would make a recommendation to the county commissioners.

“Obviously raising rates is never ideal, but solid waste operates as an enterprise funds, so it must pay for itself,” explained Johnson, who is chairwoman of the board of commissioners. “Just like those who have their trash pickup at the end of their driveway pay for both the convenience and disposal, those who self-haul are also responsible for the costs associated with the disposal of their trash.”

“It isn’t a free service.”