King County Solid Waste Division presents goal to increase recycling rates to Renton City Council

The county’s recycling rates have remained stagnate over the past decade.

During the Nov. 28 Committee of the Whole meeting, the Renton City Council received a presentation from the King County Solid Waste Division regarding the county’s region-wide goal to reduce the amount of recyclable and reusable materials that are being sent to the landfill by 70% before the year 2030.

The King County Solid Waste Division is calling the plan to meet that goal “Re+,” but currently, that plan is still in development as the county is collecting poll data on public opinions surround potential waste reduction and diversion solutions as well as the assembly of a panel of community members to held guide the implementation of the plan.

During her presentation, Re+ program manager Patty Liu, cited data that indicates very little change in the rates of recycled materials in the region over the past decade. According to that data, from 2010 to 2017 recycling rates only increased from 50% of materials being recycled to 54%.

Liu said there are several reasons contributing to why recycling rates have remained flat in the county over the past decade.

“A big one is that our system, the recycling system, can be kind of hard to navigate,” She said during her presentation to the Renton City Council. “And that is not necessarily the fault of cities or the county. Recycling can be kind of confusing, you know, you see all those plastics with the three arrows on them, but that doesn’t mean they are actually recyclable. So that is one place where things could be clarified.”

Liu said another factor is that the system relies on residents and businesses to do the right thing when it comes to properly sorting recyclable and reusable materials and getting them to change their behaviors to better support the system can be a “big ask.” She said that the county is in support of stronger producer responsibility laws passed by the state legislature in the future, so take some of the responsibility off of the shoulders of consumers and households.

“There is only so much a single household can do to increase recycling rates,” Liu said. “I think it is time to look at the larger system instead of just individual behavior.”

Based on some early polling of King County residents, people seem to be largely supportive of the mission and goal of the “Re+” program, as 88% of survey participants indicated some level of support for the concept of the program and the goal to reduce amount of recyclable and reusable materials that are being sent to the landfill by 70% before the year 2030 after being given additional information about the program and some of its proposed initiatives.

According to the survey results, 91% of participants supported at some level a unification of recycling and composting policies among cities in the county so as to make the system more consistent, 91% of participants supported legislation that would allow the region to try out new waste management technologies that could improve diversion efficiency, 80% agreed at some level that the county should change policies to ensure that products in the region are packaged in recyclable, reusable or compostable materials, and 82% of participants agreed that the county should take steps to divert waste from the garbage stream so that landfilling is not needed.