- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 11, 2012

SEATTLE — Striving to reduce the trash it sends to landfills, Seattle has banned foam takeout containers and plastic bags, told residents they must recycle cardboard and compost food scraps, and set up a registry for people to opt out of getting phonebooks.

Some city officials think the city can do even more: They’re now weighing whether to stop picking up garbage from homes every week.

Switching to every-other-week garbage collection would save the city about $6 million a year, officials say, while reducing neighborhood truck traffic and potentially keeping an additional 1,400 tons of waste a year out of the landfill.

The Seattle City Council is deciding whether to test the concept at about 800 single-family homes this summer. If the pilot project is successful, the idea may be applied citywide, making Seattle one of the largest U.S. cities to embrace the reduced pickups. A council committee vote is scheduled in May.

Seattle resident Lori Friedman has mixed feelings about the idea, but think the city should try it.

“The good part is that people will do a lot more recycling and be more thoughtful about it,” she said. “The bad part, especially in the summer, is having stinky garbage” around.

Most major U.S. cities including New York, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Houston and Phoenix collect trash every week. Portland, Ore., began less-frequent garbage collection last fall. Smaller cities in Washington state, such as Renton and Olympia, made the switch years ago. The city of Tacoma, south of Seattle, recently completed a pilot project and is weighing whether to move to every-other-week pickups.

In Seattle, the move would only nudge the city’s annual recycling rate up by less than 1 percent. But the city has already tackled some of the biggest recycling issues, so this would help the city toward its goal of a 60 percent recycling rate, the city’s solid waste director, Tim Croll, told council members last week.

Seattle recycles about 53 percent of its trash, and diverts about 125,000 tons of food scraps and yard waste out of landfills each year. Residents currently put food scraps and yard waste in one bin, trash in another, and cardboard and other recyclable materials in a third bin.

Still, thousands of tons of material that could be recycled or composted are sent on mile-long trains to a landfill about 200 miles away, said Seattle City Council member Richard Conlin, who backs the bimonthly trash pickup proposal. “There’s lots of opportunity to increase efficiency.”

Surveys show Seattle customers are divided, said Mr. Croll.

When Portland switched to every-other-week trash service last fall, some were unhappy about the prospect of leaving dirty diapers and bags of pet poop in the garbage for more than a week. Others worried about reduced service, potential odor or vermin problems, or being forced to pay for larger bins to accommodate all their trash. The comedy show “Portlandia” even spoofed the city’s many garbage and recycling bins.

“Some people aren’t exactly doing cartwheels on every-other-week service, but we’re seeing many, many people adapt, and the program appears to be working very well,” said Bruce Walker, Portland’s solid waste & recycling program manager.

“It was a big change, but people are clearly adapting. We’ve seen a big dropoff in garbage, as well as an increase in yard and compost,” he added. The amount of garbage picked up during Portland’s pilot project dropped by about 30 percent, and that seems to be the case now, Mr. Walker said.

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