Seattle weighs costs, benefits of recycling bins in city parks
Seattle Times staff reporter
With thousands of plastic water bottles tossed in the trash at softball and soccer games, the Seattle parks department wants to put recycling bins in city parks so the bottles don't end up in a landfill.
A nine-month pilot program proposed for 2008 could recycle as much as 45 tons of trash. The city has been trying to raise its recycling rate, and recently announced residents would be required to subscribe to table-scrap recycling in 2009.
"This is really a social-behavior problem and educational" issue, said Council President Nick Licata, vice-chair of the utilities committee, where the proposal was presented Friday. The program would require council budget approval this fall.
Seattle experimented with recycling at parks for four months in 1992, but the program was stopped because too much trash was tossed into the recycling bins and the garbage had to be sorted by hand.
The proposed program would target parks in Southeast and Southwest Seattle such as Seward Park, Lincoln, Genesee and Alki Beach, adding 106 bins to collect aluminum, glass and plastic in frequently used areas such as ballfields, off-leash areas, beaches and park shelters.
City parks currently provide 30 recycling bins, including at Green Lake and Golden Gardens. The parks system has about 2,500 garbage cans. The bins at View Ridge Park have been the most successful with teams and park visitors, the utility said.
The pilot will cost $200,000, which the city will fund with tonnage taxes. Since most of those taxes are paid by Seattle Public Utilities, the program would raise garbage rates by 0.2 percent, or about 4 cents more per month for the typical single-family home. Each ton recycled would cost the city $2,600, but would save the city an estimated $600 per ton in financial and environmental costs.
The utility said the decision will have to be made based on social benefit.
"That's a lot of money. ... seemingly cost-ineffective," said Tim Croll, solid-waste director for the utility.
"As for the benefits to the environment, that's an art rather than science."
After the pilot ends in December, it would cost about $130,000 per year to continue in the same locations. King County recycles during concerts at Marymoor Park -- a strategy that users have appreciated and requested for future events.
"It's been a bit of a struggle where we've had recycling bins out on trails and sports fields in parks," said Logan Harris, a spokesperson for the county parks department. "People have been using them as trash bins, so it's a high cost to separate the recyclables from the trash."
The city of Portland ran a similar pilot program in 1995, Seattle Public Utilities said, but ended it because too much trash was mixed with the recycling.
Minneapolis started a parks recycling program in 2001 and has continued it, recycling 20 tons of trash at its parks annually.
Sharon Pian Chan: 206-464-2958
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