recycled paperData is now in on recycling outcomes for 2012, and Seattle continues to move steadily towards the Zero Waste goal. The City reached a 55.7% recycling rate in 2012, with record recycling rates for both single family and multi family sectors. Tons of waste sent to the landfill declined to 316,000, a reduction of more than 160,000 tons from the peak level of 476,000 tons set in 2000. More than ¾ of that reduction has happened since the Council adopted my Zero Waste Strategy in 2007.

Our current goal is to achieve a 60% recycling rate by the year 2015, and to continue to reduce the waste sent to the landfill by at least 1% per year. We have exceeded the recycling goal for both single family residences, who now recycle 71.1% of their waste, and for the commercial sector, which currently recycles 61.4% of their waste. Multi family lags behind, not surprisingly, with only a 32.2% recycling rate, but this is up from 28.7% in 2011, an impressive gain.  Much of this can be attributed to the introduction of universal access to food waste collection in 2012, and we expect these gains to continue as residents get more used to the system.

The City is now also tracking the recycling of construction and demolition waste, one of the two largest components of the waste stream that the Zero Waste Strategy identified as major targets for increased recycling and waste reduction. That sector is hovering around the 60% mark, and was slightly lower in 2012.

The City continues to introduce new bans on materials that will no longer be allowed to be disposed of in the waste stream, another key component of the Zero Waste Strategy. This is most effective in the commercial sector, which is already prohibited from disposing of paper and cardboard as garbage. The City will phase in bans on other traditional recyclables as well as food and compostable paper in the future.

The recycling rate for ‘self haul’ (materials dropped off at the transfer stations) remains at a disappointing level, only 12.5% in 2012. However, tons disposed of at the stations have been steadily declining for years, and is more than 30% lower than in 2000. The new transfer stations are designed to make it much easier to recycle, and SPU expects the recycling rate to climb as the South Transfer Station reaches full operations this year, the North Transfer Station is opened in 2016, and Phase 2 of the South Transfer Station is completed in 2018, introducing a separate recycling drop-off.

Seattle Public Utilities is also continuing to experiment with ways to increase the recycling rate in public places and large events, and with new waste prevention programs designed to reduce waste generation. These include the electronic products recycling program authorized under State legislation, the phone directory opt-out program and the plastic bag ban, all of which were elements of the Zero Waste Strategy. In 2014, the Board of Health will introduce a product stewardship program for medicines and pharmaceuticals, a small but problematic part of the waste stream.

Implementation of the Zero Waste Strategy will continue in 2013 with new materials and outreach directed at increasing residential and commercial food waste diversion and new rules regarding construction and demolition waste. I am proud of the results of the Zero Waste program, which has now been included in the City’s Carbon Neutrality work as a major component of our strategic planning.