Recycling in Seattle
The economics of not recycling caught up with Seattle
in the late 1980s. They were then faced with a
problem that needed to be resolved quickly as local
landfills would soon close, the citizens and politicians
in the West Coast city determined that quick action
This led to the start of Seattle’s solid waste
diversion recycling collection programs in 1989
- programs that are considered to be some of the
most effective in the nation.
To learn more about what Seattle has done and is
planning for the future, American Recycler spoke
with Chuck Clarke, the director of Seattle Public
If a city or county were willing to make the effort
and allocate the necessary resources based on best
practices from Seattle and other cities, how long
would it take to establish an aggressive diversion
and recycling program?
Clarke: Seattle increased its recycling diversion
by nearly 150 percent within the first five years
of instituting its residential curbside recycling
Of America’s cities and urban centers with populations
of 500,000 plus, how many have matched Seattle’s
achievements and what do you believe is preventing
those who have not done so, from establishing similar
Clarke: Recycling has been a success story for
many American cities, including Portland and San
Francisco. They’ve done it by changing the way
they think of garbage, not as a necessary evil
and municipal revenue source, but literally as
a waste on the environment, a waste on their community
and a waste of resources.
Participation by the residential and non-residential
sectors is essential to the success of recycling
and diversion programs. In terms of an education
program, what are the necessary elements that a
municipality must implement to get both sectors
Clarke: Businesses and residents need clear information
on what to recycle, how to recycle, and why recycling
is important both economically and environmentally.
This information should be presented frequently.
What are the necessary “carrots” that a municipality
must employ to get the residents and businesses
to actively participate in diversion and recycling
Clarke: Seattle offers a “pay as you throw” garbage
can system that serves as a terrific incentive
for businesses and residents to recycle. The bigger
the can you need for your garbage, the more you
pay, which is a simple way to encourage recycling.
For those few who don’t recycle, the city has prohibited
recyclables from the garbage. Apartments and businesses
face fines if they repeatedly don’t recycle, and
households risk not having their garbage picked
up if they don’t recycle.
Five years ago, Seattle banned citizens from placing
recyclables in their trash. Has this policy been
accepted by the majority of people? Is the city
still issuing fines for non-compliance?
Clarke: The vast majority of businesses
and residents support our recycling ordinance,
with more than a 98 percent recycling compliance
rate and a 10 percent increase in diversion since
the ordinance passed in 2003. Last year, less than
20 fines were levied against apartments and businesses
for not recycling.