Less-frequent trash pickup in Tacoma cuts costs

Tacoma’s year-old program saves not only fuel costs but dump fees as customers recycle more

kate.martin@thenewstribune.comApril 21, 2014 

Tacoma’s solid waste department says the city is saving money with every-other-week garbage pickup, which marked its first anniversary last month.

The change debuted in some neighborhoods in March 2013, and every-other-week garbage pickup went citywide in November.

Since the new schedule’s introduction, the city has saved money in fuel costs, and residents are throwing away less trash, city officials say.

In 2013, the city hauled about 6.5 percent less residential garbage to a Graham landfill than it had in 2012. The city pays to dispose of garbage by the ton.

The change in garbage pickup also has allowed the city to use fewer garbage trucks and to not fill positions left vacant by workers who departed voluntarily. The reduction in garbage routes is projected to save $900,000 to $1.2 million per year.

The city’s garbage truck fleet is also using 30 to 40 percent less fuel, said Andy Torres, the city’s assistant division manager of solid waste. The trucks are carrying heavier loads but driving fewer miles.

“The trucks before were underutilized,” Torres said. “Now that we have less trucks on the road and close to the same amount of garbage on a per-route basis, those trucks are working a little harder.”

Air quality will also improve slightly because there are fewer garbage trucks on the road, said City Councilman Ryan Mello.

The city of Seattle recently abandoned plans to move to every-other-week garbage collection after an unfavorable response from customers participating in a pilot study.

Tacoma officials point to a key difference in their program. Tacoma doubled the size of customers’ trash containers when it made the change. Customers with 30-gallon containers received 60-gallon containers.

That’s not what happened in Seattle, Torres said.

“When they switched and had everyone in their pilot go every other week, they kept their customers on the same size (can),” Torres said. “… It was really difficult for customers to reduce the amount of garbage they generate over a two-week period.”

Since every-other-week garbage collection began, some Tacoma trash customers have begun recycling more, allowing them to use smaller garbage containers and lower their bill, Torres said.

Over time, officials hope residents will recycle more and throw away less, delaying the necessity of having to build an expensive new landfill, or truck trash elsewhere.

Tacoma currently sends most of its trash to the LRI landfill in Graham. The city agreed that 70 percent of its waste would be recycled by 2028, according to an agreement between the city and Pierce County.

Mello said the goal is a daunting one. An analysis of residential garbage completed before the city started its food recycling program in 2012 showed a third of residential garbage was food waste.

Mello said the city won’t get every customer to put all of his or her food waste into the yard waste bin, “but through education and making it as easy as possible, we get as close as we can.”

Businesses and apartment complexes could be next on the list to get the option of food waste recycling, he said.

Kate Martin: 253-597-8542 kate.martin@thenewstribune.com

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