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Garbage Truck (komonews.com)Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) has completed its evaluation of the One Less Truck Pilot Project, which evaluates reducing the number of trucks in our neighborhoods by moving to every-other-week garbage pickup. One Less Truck would save ratepayers up to $5-6 million per year, reduce traffic and encourage recycling and composting. SPU has learned that implementing this program Citywide is generally, but not universally, acceptable to the public. SPU also learned a lot about customer preferences for how to implement the program.

Because this would be a major change in our solid waste collection system, Council directed SPU to conduct a pilot project to understand the potential impacts. Our goal was to see how people in different neighborhoods would react, whether it would increase recycling and composting, and what rate structure and operation pattern worked best for most people.

The pilot was conducted in four different single-family neighborhoods around Seattle, selected to represent a wide range of households by income and ethnicity, between July and December of 2012. The neighborhoods selected were in Wedgwood, Leschi, Dunlap, and Highland Park, each with 200 customers. Customers were assigned to two different rate designs structured to reward increased recycling and composting, and were given a stipend for participating.

Of the customers who experienced the new collection system, 63% were generally satisfied after the pilot. This is almost double the number who anticipated they would be satisfied in a citywide survey conducted in 2011, when only 33% of customers thought they would like the new system. While the 63% number is significantly lower than the 89% who expressed satisfaction with their current service, past experience has shown that it takes time to get used to new patterns, and it seems likely that a very large majority of people would find this system workable in time.

Generally, people with larger households and lower incomes were less satisfied with the system – only 58% of households with diapers, for example, but no group fell below 50%. Satisfied customers liked the improved efficiencies, cost reductions, and reduced truck traffic. Dissatisfied customers were concerned about smells, odors, and pests, and with having to wait two weeks if they missed a collection. Participants supported citywide implementation 53 to 33%, with, not surprisingly, supporters being generally satisfied and opponents generally dissatisfied.

Pilot households reduced garbage by 15%, and reported increased recycling and composting. Projected citywide, this would reduce garbage disposal by 9,000 tons per year. In general, the results suggest that citywide implementation would be a positive step for most customers and for implementation of our Zero Waste Strategy.

Respondents also gave useful information about how the program could be implemented. They requested same week pick up of garbage and recycling, so they would not have to worry about which can to put out. They also suggested that there needs to be accompanying education programs to minimize problems like odors and overflowing cans. And they recommended providing some kind of transition or mitigation program such as free extra garbage pickups or diaper pickups.

SPU will work with the Solid Waste Advisory Committee and its Customer Panel to make recommendations as to whether to proceed, how to manage the transition, and how to ensure that negative impacts are managed successfully. The Utility will make a recommendation to the Mayor and Council early next year. If there is agreement to move forward, the program would be implemented in April 2015.

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