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Solid Waste Improvements

Garbage Pick-Up

Tacoma recently transitioned to every-other-week garbage pick-up for residential solid waste customers as a part of on-going City efforts to cut both costs and environmental impacts.

The program met and even exceeded goals in reducing waste volumes, fuel use, and other costs. This week Environmental Services staff made a final presentation to Council on the every-other-week program, and on other potential upcoming improvements.

The every-other-week program paid off with a 45% reduction in fuel use, dropping the amount spent from $31,000 to $17,000 per month, and with a decrease in can size (and accompanying cost-savings) for many customers. Public opinion was generally good on the switch, as well; in a door-to-door survey 75% of customers responded positively, 20% were neutral about the change, and only 5% were negative.

Over the next decade, Environmental Services wants to continue the trend of fuel and cost savings. They hope to see a 76% total reduction in fuel use, largely through transitioning to diesel hybrid and CNG trucks.

 

An App for that?

At Tuesday's study session, staff hinted that an app is in the works to help remind you which can goes out on which day. That one is a ways off, but could be handy.

 

Automated Glass Recycling

Glass recycling is another area staff are assessing for potential improvements in pick-up efficiency and cost reductions. Tacoma's existing recycling pick-up is semi-automated. In other words, pick-up of the big blue can of co-mingled paper, metal, and plastic recycling is automated, but workers have to get out of their vehicle to manually pick-up the smaller bins of glass recycling.

This leads to inefficiencies in a couple of areas. It means that Tacoma's recycling trucks are able to make only 500 to 550 stops per day, compared to roughly double that for Tacoma's fully-automated garbage pick-up. Workers handling glass are also more likely to be subjects of on the job injuries.

Apparently glass is a tricky thing to work with - not only is it more dangerous both to workers and to the public, but it's also hard on the machines, causing more wear-and-tear than other materials. Co-mingling everything, including the glass would increase pick-up efficiency, but including glass with paper and other recycling means that more of those products end up in the landfill, defeating the purpose of recycling them.

Solid Waste has been considering different ways of improving efficiency in recycling pick-up. Newer technology allows for gravity locks on cans - allowing the lid to open when tipped upside down for automated-pick-up, but keeping it closed if the can is accidentally tipped over. This decreases risks associated with broken glass cleanup, making automated recycling more feasible.

Solid waste plans to begin testing automated glass pick-up in two pilot areas this fall. Residents in those neighborhoods will receive test bins sometime in October, probably a 20-gallon container (current glass bins are 17 gallons), along with information on how to use them. The two test areas were chosen based on current high volumes of glass recycling, to give staff the greatest number of households to conduct the pilot with.

The City hopes to answer several questions with the pilot program. What type of bins will work best for automated pick-up? Will the noise level of automated pick-up be too much? Will increased efficiency and decreased worker injuries lead to significant cost savings? Will the public like the program?


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