Afternoon Jolt

Today's loser: The city's Zero Waste plan. 

Last week, Mayor Ed Murray announced that he was canceling plans to reduce trash pickup service in Seattle to once every two weeks, citing a lack of enthusiasm among participants in a pilot project in some neighborhoods. 

The program, part of the city's bright-green Mike McGinn/Richard Conlin-led Zero Waste strategy, was supposed to provide an incentive for SPU customers to throw away less and recycle more (you're more likely to recycle if the alternative is letting trash pile up), reduce traffic from garbage trucks (and the resulting greenhouse gas emissions) and reduce the cost of running the garbage system. 

Citywide surveys—that is, surveys of all neighborhoods, including those that didn't participate in the pilot program—show widespread opposition to once-every-two-weeks garbage pickups—45 percent opposed, compared to 33 percent in favor. However, among those who actually participated in the pilot program, nearly two-thirds—a decisive 63 percent—said they were satisfied. If that was an election, it would be a landslide.

Meanwhile, just 33 percent of participants said they wouldn't recommend expanding the program citywide, meaning that the vast majority said they would recommend expansion. 

Nonetheless (and bizarrely), in its presentation on the survey results, SPU characterized this strong support as "only 63 percent," and singled out "strong resistance" as one of the major arguments for scuttling the program. 

Robert Feldstein, head of Murray's Office of Policy and Innovation, told PubliCola last week that "there was a disproportionate impact on some of the lower-income neighborhoods—they had more complaints and more problems with it than other neighborhoods."

While lower-income people did show less satisfaction with the pilot than higher-income participants (61 percent of households making under $60,000 to 70 percent of those making over $60,000), they still strongly supported the program, and no demographic group surveyed showed support below 50 percent.

Murray also noted in his announcement that the savings to customers from less-frequent service are "only moderate"—about 8 percent for single-family customers, or less for those customers who decide to pay for larger garbage cans.

At this morning's council briefings meeting, council utilities committee chair Sally Bagshaw put it this way: "People were getting half the garbage collections but their bills weren’t being cut in half, they were being reduced by about 8 percent, which didn’t seem fair." 

In his statement, Murray was sanguine about the city's ability to increase recycling (and cut waste) without reducing garbage pickups. “Based on projections in the City’s recently-adopted Solid Waste Management Plan, we should be able to stay on track with our recycling goals without resorting to every-other-week garbage collections,” Murray said. “If that turns out not to be the case, we can always reassess.”

Here's a suggestion for Team Murray: How about taking the current equation and flipping it? Instead of picking up trash once a week and recycling every two weeks, why not pick up trash every two weeks and recycling every week? If it turns out not to work, you can always reassess. 


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