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Seattle Keeps Door Open To Biweekly Garbage Pickups

KUOW Photo/Derek Wang
Tacoma, Olympia and Portland, Ore., have all moved to garbage collection every other week.

Seattle trash pickup could be reduced to every other week by 2015 if the Seattle City Council votes on Monday to keep that option on the table for the next year.

If the action passes as expected, biweekly service won’t be definite, however: Mayor-elect Ed Murray and  council members will still need to pass the legislation early next year.

In a pilot program last year, residents didn’t like reduced pickups as much as normal weekly service, but the city says it has its advantages.

Brett Stav with Seattle Public Utilities helped oversee the 2012 pilot program in which people had their garbage collected every other week. He said the change would save the city about $6 million a year, but it wouldn’t reduce garbage bills as much as some might expect. 

“The question that we got a lot when we first rolled this program out was, if you cut garbage by 50 percent, why don’t you cut my bill by half?” Stav said. “And the answer to that is the garbage collection, the garbage bill, pays for a lot more than just having your garbage picked up.”

Garbage fees also pay for services such as recycling pickup and painting over graffiti.

Satisfaction rates with biweekly pickup were at 63 percent, quite a bit lower than with the current weekly collection, which is 89 percent. Those groups least satisfied were people who live in lower-income neighborhoods, non-whites, larger households, pet owners and people who use disposable diapers. People complained about increased odors and overflowing containers.

“But at the same time,” Stav said, “by switching to every-other-week garbage, tests showed we would increase recycling and we found that people did get used to the program; their satisfaction grew over time.”

The change also meant fewer trucks on the road and reduced emissions.  The utility could pass cost savings on to customers, or use the savings to address any issues with the reduced service.

If Seattle wants to move forward with reduced garbage pickups by 2015, the city’s waste haulers will need advance notice, which requires the council’s action on Monday.

Year started with KUOW: 2005