Dept. of Ecology: Waste down, recycling flat

Recycling continues to be important to Washington residents, according to new numbers compiled by the state Washington Department of Ecology. Although the recycling rate remained the same at 43 percent of municipal waste in 2007, the amount of waste generated per person in Washington declined for the first time in six years. That accounts for 4 million tons of recycled material. We sent a total of 5.3 million tons of waste to landfills.

There was a slight decline in diverting other materials from landfills, such as construction and demolition debris, dropping the total statewide “recovery” of materials from 49 to 47 percent.

“People in Washington are responsible about not sending garbage to a landfill. We think about recycling our garbage,” said Laurie Davies, manager of Ecology’s Solid Waste Program. “But we need to think a lot more about not creating waste in the first place. That means thinking about the products we buy, and how they’re made and packaged.”

From 2006 to 2007, Washington’s population grew an estimated 1.9 percent, according to population forecasters with the Office of Financial Management. In contrast, the amount of garbage produced by each person in the state decreased by 1.4 percent in 2007. Washington residents produced an average of 7.9 pounds of waste per person each day in 2007, compared to 8.0 pounds a day in 2006.

Many gains were made in materials collected as part of curbside recycling programs, such as glass, cans and plastic. Ecology officials say this is due to an increased number of curbside collection programs that mix materials for collection — that is “co-mingling” recyclables in one bin. These programs increase convenience and generally collect more materials than systems requiring separation into many different bins. Additionally, gains were made due to better resale markets for the materials.

Re-using, recycling and otherwise diverting materials such as asphalt, concrete, land-clearing debris, carpet, furniture, and paint helps to ease pressure on landfill space. Increased disposal of construction, demolition and excavation wastes sent to landfills caused the “recovery rate” for these items to decrease. Added to the officially counted recycled items, the statewide rate of materials diverted from landfills dropped from 49 percent in 2006 to 47 percent in 2007.

“We could do better at diverting construction and demolition related materials from landfills,” Davies said. “One of our top priorities to reduce waste in Washington is encouraging and requiring more green building practices. When these programs achieve greater success, not only will they reduce wastes going to landfills, but they will also help stimulate the economy, providing green jobs and environmentally safer homes.

Davies said Washington residents can also make a difference by being mindful of waste we produce away from home — when shopping or making food purchases. Workplaces can cut paper waste by relying more on electronic documentation and using recycled paper in copy machines and printers. Cutting waste can be a money-saving action, both for households and businesses.A 1989 Washington state law established a statewide recycling goal of 50 percent.