Washington ranks among best at recycling

Federal Way’s recyclables are loaded into large trailers and hauled to Waste Management’s Cascade Recycling Center in Woodinville. - Courtesy photo
Federal Way’s recyclables are loaded into large trailers and hauled to Waste Management’s Cascade Recycling Center in Woodinville.
— image credit: Courtesy photo

Washington's recycling rate bumped up to 49 percent in 2010, just 1 percent short of a goal set by state lawmakers in 1989. That 49 percent puts Washington well above the national average of 34 percent.

According to the state Department of Ecology (DOE), Washington residents are recycling more and throwing away less. In 2010, the total amount of municipal recycled waste increased 14 percent, with 540,000 tons recycled in 2010. The total amount of waste disposed by households and businesses also continued a downward trend in 2010, dropping by 65,000 tons — 1 percent less than 2009, according to DOE.

One number that was down in 2010 was the total amount of waste being diverted from disposal, going from 54.8 percent in 2009 to 54.3 percent in 2010. This drop comes from construction and demolition related materials being disposed instead of recycled.

Laurie Davies, program manager for DOE's Waste 2 Resources program, said this decline can be attributed to a slow attrition of DOE staff.

"Our program has increasingly focused on keeping these materials out of landfills by following the statewide solid and hazardous waste plan that's called Beyond Waste," she said. "However, we continue to struggle with declining staff resources to carry out our state plan."

Recycling of organic materials, plastics and electronics increased in 2010. Increased awareness of how to recycle organic waste, such as yard debris and food scraps, accounted for half the increase in recycling. The DOE notes that less aluminum and paper were collected for recycling in 2010 than in other years.

This increase in recycling means that Washington state "avoided emitting 3.1 million tons of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. (Recycling) also saved 160 trillion British thermal units of energy, the equivalent of conserving 1.3 billion gallons of gasoline." According to DOE, that amount can "power 1.5 million homes for a year", which is over half the households in the state.

"Reducing and recycling waste have economic, environmental, and public health benefits for our states residents," Davies said. "It protects our water, reduces our exposure to toxic chemicals which lowers health risks, and can build a clean, green economy for Washington's future."

Federal Way connection

Federal Way’s recyclables are loaded into large trailers and hauled to Waste Management’s Cascade Recycling Center in Woodinville.

The recyclables are placed on a conveyor belt and move through a series of mechanical screens that use size, gravity and magnets to separate the various materials. About 30 workers remove contaminants and make sure the system sorts the recyclables as efficiently as possible.

The sorted materials are stored in bunkers until they are taken to balers. There, the materials are tightly condensed into bales that weigh about a ton each.

These bales are loaded into shipping containers and transported by truck, train and ship to locations around the world. The recycled materials are then used to make recycled-content products.

Finally, the new recycled-content products made from your recyclables end up on store shelves, in mailboxes, and on newsstands.

At that point you get the opportunity to “complete the recycling loop” by identifying and purchasing items that contain “post-consumer recycled content.” The next time you buy tissue, paper towels, school supplies, or printing paper, remember to look for “post-consumer” recycled-content.

Using recycled-content products increases the demand for recyclables, creates jobs, conserves resources and saves energy.


(Jeanette Brizendine, the Recycling Manager for the City of Federal Way, contributed the above information about recycling in Federal Way that was first published in July.)


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