Renton families aim to trim waste in recycling competition

Over the next month, six Renton families will compete to determine the biggest loser — but in the waste rather than the waist department. The family that reduces the biggest percentage of its weekly garbage during the month wins a recycling makeover and other prizes.

Over the next month, six Renton families will compete to determine the biggest loser — but in the waste rather than the waist department. The family that reduces the biggest percentage of its weekly garbage during the month wins a recycling makeover and other prizes.

The East Renton Plateau neighborhood challenge is part of King County’s campaign called “Recycle More. It’s Easy To Do.”

“It’s like the show ‘The Biggest Loser,’ but I like to think of this as ‘the biggest winner,’” Tom Watson said at a kick-off event in the neighborhood Thursday. Watson is project manager for King County’s Recycling and Environmental Services. “The biggest winner is going to be the planet.”

Aside from the planet, the neighbors were already predicting the month’s other big winner Thursday, when Watson weighed and analyzed a week’s worth of garbage from each family.

“Baiba,” Rebecca Gallagher said. “If you’re talking about most improved, Baiba will win.”

Baiba Rubino lugged six bloated garbage bags to the scale Thursday.

“With 176 pounds…” she joked.

Not quite. More like 62.6. But as one of her neighbors shouted, “You have room for improvement!”

With a baby son and 3-year-old daughter, Baiba and Joe Rubino generate a lot of trash. And Baiba says she’s sometimes unsure what can be recycled. The Rubinos are the competition’s rookies.

Other families, like those led by Bonnie and Rob Nichols and Karen and Stan Kawamoto, are

more experienced recyclers. The Nichols already compost their food and recycle their paper, aluminum and plastics. And the Kawamotos began the challenge with only one bag of garbage, weighing a meager 7.4 pounds. They had been away from home a few days.

Other contenders, like Carrie and Glenn Gesell and their three children, had entertained guests, which increased their week’s garbage. The Gesell’s three bags weighed 17 pounds.

Exceptions like vacations and entertaining will make determining a contest winner difficult, says Sharon Aller, supervisor for King County’s Recycling and Environmental Services.

That’s why King County is trying to keep the competition friendly, not the “smackdown” Watson joked about Thursday.

Still, Gallagher admits she became interested in participating in the challenge after she learned it was a contest.

“We’re kind of all competitive, too,” she said of the families. “When it was presented as a contest, who can reduce the most waste, we were like, ‘Yeah, yeah we’ll do that. We’re good at recycling, but want to take it to the next step.”

Watson told the participants how to take the next step while sifting through their garbage Thursday. He also handed out garbage-reducing tools: a small green compost bin, a box of composting bags and a spatula, for cleaning food containers.

“I love my job — I do,” a black-gloved Watson said as he picked through Starbucks cups and milk cartons. Some of the trash wasn’t actually trash. Like the pair of checkered flip flops that could be taken to a thrift store, the plastic bags that could be recycled at grocery stores and the cat food cans that could be rinsed and recycled. Milk cartons, Tetra Paks and microwave popcorn bags can also be recycled, Watson said.

On the flip side, many packages embossed with recycling symbols can’t be recycled. Packages like plastic fast food containers or the plastic wrapping new electronics.

Aside from recycling, each family can reduce its trash by dumping food scraps in its yard waste container. About 90 percent of King County residents can now dispose of their leftovers that way, at no extra charge. But except for two areas in a pilot program, Renton residents do not yet have that mixed yard waste and food service. The city is negotiating a new waste-collection contract that will include food pick-up to be turned into compost. The six neighborhood challenge families are allowed to dispose food in yard waste bins for the contest’s duration.

Much of the garbage sorted Thursday was food. That’s consistent with King County single families, who Aller says recycle about 54 percent of their waste, but toss most uneaten food. According to a King County press release, more than half of the “trash” at King County’s Cedar Hills Regional Landfill is recyclable. Food scraps and food-soiled paper make up more than 30 percent of residential garbage.

“So once a family starts recycling food, it’s going to see another difference,” Aller says.

The goal of the East Plateau neighborhood challenge is to encourage King County residents to increase their home recycling. King County aims to generate zero waste by 2030.

“Recycle More. It’s Easy To Do” is one step toward achieving that lofty goal. Aller says the campaign’s budget this year is $120,000. That budget includes a variety of promotional tools, such as radio and TV ads. The campaign began in 2006. It’s been successful so far, Aller says, noting that recycling increased by 3 percent in King County last year.

Although Watson said Thursday he doesn’t think garbage is that gross, he still hopes he’ll see less of it at the end of the month-long neighborhood challenge.

“If they could reduce at least 20 percent it would make me really happy,” he said.

Emily Garland can be reached at or (425) 255-3484, ext. 5052.

For more information

Much of what ends up in landfills is recyclable. To find out more about recycling in Renton, visit and click on the Living and Environment tabs. In King County, visit For more about recycling food scraps and soiled paper, visit