Mayor wants to reexamine trash services

Renton considers trash service contracts

Republic Services customers had delayed trash pickup as local union employees honored a strike in Massachusetts. But the temporary delay could result in a much larger program change.

Mayor Denis Law said Renton’s distinct every-other-week landfill pickup schedule should be reexamined at the next contract renewal, which is set for 2027.

Customers were informed of the disrupted service through phone calls and the Republic Services website, and Renton’s social media accounts. Employees honored the picket line Oct. 3-5.

“Our members made the choice to honor Local 25’s picket line because that is what union members do — we support each other,” Jamie Fleming, communications director for Teamsters Local Union No. 174, stated in an email. “We are proud of our members for showing such strong solidarity with their brothers in Boston.”

Those folks whose trash wasn’t collected that Thursday, Oct. 3, received several delays. The trash was collected Saturday, Oct. 12, nine days after the originally-scheduled pickup, and 23 days total since the last pickup. Additional bags were collected at no charge. Law said the city is reviewing contract obligations to see if it can find a remedy, possibly in the form of a rebate to the affected customers’ accounts.

Law said after the picketing, Republic Services reached out to explain what happened: the picket line wasn’t expected to also be up Saturday, Oct. 5, which led to the service delaying to the following Saturday, Oct. 12. Law said Republic Services also acknowledged this caused frustration for residents.

“I think Republic is trying (its) best to be customer-service oriented,” Law said. “I was pleased they wanted to get together to emphasize the fact that this has implications on our residents, and want to address that.”

With double the garbage to pick up, employees weren’t able to get to as many places in one day. Since they had to make more stops to empty the truck, it created a domino effect. Law said Republic Services could better communicate to customers next time what is going on and why service is delayed.

At the Oct. 7 city council meeting public comment, Renton homeowner Kjell Stendal spoke out about the service delay. He said it was the week for garbage and recycling for his home, and was hit with the 23-day wait.

“My recommendation would be to go back to the every week system, a lot of community’s do that. It’s not like it’s not green,” Stendal said.

In response to Stendal, Law said he told Republic Services that Renton’s unique every-other-week services and weekly composting makes the impact of delays like this greater. He also said it “wasn’t out of possibility” that the council reviews the renewal contract for a weekly service instead.

Law said that all in all, every other week services have worked for Renton. The program began in 2009, during a contract renewal with the city’s former waste pickup service, Waste Management. Renton is the only city in King County doing this type of pickup, city Solid Waste Coordinator Linda Knight said; unlimited composting every week, and unlimited recycling and limited trash every two weeks (weekly trash pickup is available, for an additional fee of $22.64).

This type of pickup has gained the attention of cities across the U.S.— Knight said she receives calls from different municipalities asking how it’s worked for them. Knight said the overall number of materials thrown away decreased in Renton, and the number of organics in the landfill from Renton residents also went down.

Recyclables and composting materials were collected at 58 percent in the weekly program in 2008. That jumped to 68 percent in 2009, and 70 percent in 2010, once the city moved to every other week. After that, collection rate continued at 70 percent, up to at least 2018. Knight said she gives all credit to customers who are committed to reducing waste in landfills.

But more can still be done for composting regionally; last week Aaron Kunkler reported in King County one-third of all material sent to the Cedar Hills Regional Landfill, near Renton, could have been composted.

Less garbage trucks driving through the residential areas each week also reduces greenhouse gas emissions. The switch also saved the city, and residents, money.

In 2017, the switch to Republic Services did not change the every other week program, except that 5,000 residences annexed in were added to the city program. Whenever there’s a change to service, customers will have some level of anxieties, Knight said, because people have a personal relationship with how they take care of waste.

Republic Services was the talk of resident concern, a little after the contract began in 2017, when council was notified of waste service problems regarding billing to property owners, missed pickups and payment confusion. At the time, Knight said they didn’t know the little ways this contract would differ from previous service.

Knight said while staff doesn’t always hear from folks who are excited about solid waste services, the customers that are satisfied and proud of their recycling are out there. As someone who works in solid waste, Knight said she hears people talk about their recycling as a way they can make their own environmental contribution.

Law said although it’s worked delays like this one, and like the snow storm last February, are good examples of the downside. And as Renton residents have been more efficient recyclers and using smaller garbage bins, the garbage can really pile up. He also feels everything is up for discussion since China taking less U.S. recyclables.

“I think everything has to be revisited, in terms of what is the best benefit for our customers, and then be open minded to change,” Law said. “Could that mean there’s not a strong enough benefit to every-other-week and putting a focus on recycling? We should revisit that and see.”

Knight, who gave a presentation on the China National Sword policy to council earlier this year, said that the recycling challenge has also led to new opportunities for recycled goods to be used in nearby paper mills. Still, in a recent Utilities Committee meeting staff said that Republic Services has discussed possibly raising recyclable fees as a result. Knight said she remains optimistic.

As they look at the renegotiation several years down the line, Knight said it will be important for the city to always take note of disruptions, and to consider the scenarios for future contracts. Law also said in the long term they need to look at how Republic Services communicates to customers, so they aren’t so frustrated by these situations.

“It’s a little difficult to predict what garbage looks like in 2027, and beyond,” she said. “But the city always looks at procurement with the customer in mind, customer service rates and sustainability.”