Seattle sues King County in garbage battle


We have a real garbage fight on our hands here.

The city of Seattle has sued King County, claiming almost $ 3 million in charges related to the trash you throw in the alley behind your house.

The dispute is over who should get the product of approximately 1,980 tonnes of “recyclable tailings” collected each month outside Seattle by King County, but processed at facilities in Seattle.

The city and county have been haggling garbage money for over two years. As of February, they’ve split the money, about $ 170,000 a month, 50/50.

But Seattle has had enough and wants a court to rule that the waste belongs to the city and the county to reimburse $ 2.99 million of product it collected during the dispute.

The city filed a lawsuit Thursday in King County Superior Court.

Contacted separately, the Seattle city attorney’s office (which filed the complaint) and the King County Department of Natural Resources (which oversees the county’s waste management) responded with a joint statement.

“Seattle and King County share a commitment to appropriately reduce waste and its impacts on the environment, and frequently collaborate in these efforts,” the two agencies wrote. “However, in this case there are conflicting code language interpretations that require independent examination.”

“After many good faith conversations, Seattle and King County concluded that a neutral third-party decision-maker was needed to clarify and resolve differences in the interpretation of regulations in each jurisdiction.”

The fight here is not over the actual recyclables, for which there is a robust resale market. Rather, it is for the garbage that remains after the recyclables have been sifted and sorted.

The county and city hire contractors to pick up the trash and recycling that is left on the sidewalks and in the back alleys of homes and businesses. Garbage goes to the landfill. (If you’re in Seattle, it goes by train to Arlington, Oregon, and if you’re elsewhere in the county, it goes to the Cedar Hills landfill in South King County).

Recyclable materials are sent to huge processing facilities, where Rube Goldberg-type assembly lines of conveyor belts, gusts of air, screens, filters, infrared lights and optical sensors sort your bottles. , cans and newspapers in bales of plastic, glass, metal and paper.

These giant blocks of waste are then sold. The prices of recyclable materials have rebounded considerably in recent years. Prices plunged in 2017 and 2018, after China, the largest importer of recyclables, implemented stricter quality controls for some materials and outright bans on others. Falling prices forced local processors, unable to find buyers, to send hundreds of tons of recyclables to landfills.

Since then, new national markets have emerged and India, Mexico and Vietnam have increased their recycling imports. U.S. exports of recycled paper and plastic increased last year for the first time since 2018, according to Resource Recycling, a trade publication.

But anything that ends up in the city’s two recycling facilities – the Rabanco recycling center and the Récologie recycling center, both in Sodo – is not recyclable.

What is left is known as tailings, but it is basically waste. Every time you throw a dirty take-out container, a used mask or an old garden hose in the recycling bin, it ends up becoming a “residue” – a trash can.

And the city and county then charge recycling facilities a fee – the same way you pay a monthly garbage fee – to take that garbage to a landfill.

These fees add up. And both the city and the county would like to continue collecting them.

The city’s argument cites the state constitution, state law, and city and county code to assert that waste disposal in a city is the domain of the city, that waste can come from outside the city.

“Washington State’s regulatory framework for solid waste disposal places primary responsibility on cities within their boundaries,” Seattle wrote in its lawsuit. “King County does not have the authority to direct the handling, collection or disposal of solid waste within the city limits.”

King County has previously told recycling facilities that waste from out of town – unincorporated areas and small towns it has contracted with for waste disposal – should stay in. the county system.

However, there is one thing both parties agree on: recyclables, when you put them in your bin, must be empty, clean and dry. And, please, no plastic wrap or bulk plastic bags; they get tangled up in processing equipment, leading to costly downtime and repairs, and reducing everyone’s revenue.


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