Council says no to Waste Management request for recycling pickup charge

Waste Management employees sort recyclables.

Faced with citizen backlash over a recent water rate increase and with sewer and stormwater rate increases on the horizon, the Mountlake Terrace City Council at its Oct. 17 meeting pushed back on a request by contract garbage hauler Waste Management to charge Mountlake Terrace customers for picking up recycling — and to charge customers a $25 fee if they don’t recycle correctly.

Under the city’s current contract with Waste Management, which runs until 2022, recycling is included as part of the garbage service. However, Waste Management Public Sector Manager Marcella Manibusan said the company was asking the council to consider the “extraordinary recycling rate increase” to offset increased processing costs at the Woodinville center where the city’s recyclables are processed

The proposal ranged from 1.4% to 2.8% for residential and commercial customers, depending on the size of the cart or pickup.

The U.S. recycling market has been impacted by China’s 2017 announcement regarding the types and contamination levels of the materials it would accept, Manibusan explained. Since China had been the world’s largest recycler of paper and plastic, the decision had broad impact, particularly in the U.S. West Coast recyclers in particular has benefited from low-cost shipping to China.

The result is increased costs for waste haulers. Materials are shipped to more countries worldwide, increasing shipping costs. And waste hauling companies that pick up recyclables have had to hire more people to sort through recycling materials to pick out unacceptable items that contaminate the recycling stream, Manibusan said.

In addition to asking the city to amend its contract so Waste Management could charge more to reflect increased recycling costs, Manibusan said the company was also requesting permission to assess a $25 “contamination charge” when customers place non-recyclables into the recycling bin. The charge would be assessed only after customers had been issued two “customer education” warning notices that they had placed the wrong items in their cart.

The notice customers receive when non-recyclables are placed in a cart.

Currently, customers do receive written “Oops!” notices when they make a recycling mistake. “We’re trying to educate, we’re trying to put these tags out there, sometimes it’s not enough,” Manibusan said.  “And so we really need to drive that behavior, with that one-time charge and then hopefully that would be it.”

Councilmember Laura Sonmore called the $25 charge “very ridiculous to say the least” and said the company needs to focus on education rather than punitive measures for customers who don’t recycle properly.

Stating that she is “sticking up for the residents of Mountlake Terrace,” Sonmore also noted that Waste Management is a publicly traded company on the New York Stock Exchange with annual revenue of $14.5 billion, and has profited from its agreement with the City of Mountlake Terrace. Now that the recycling market has soured, “are they going to return all these profits that they’ve made over the decades from Mountlake Terrace?” she asked. “We can’t subsidize Waste Management.”

Councilmember Rick Ryan noted that residents have a duty to educate themselves about what materials are appropriate for the recycling bin “to be a good citizen of the city and the planet.” A fee might encourage them to do the right thing, he said.

The general consensus of the council was to reject Waste Management’s proposal for increasing costs, stating those changes could be addressed when the current contract expires in 2022. However, councilmembers did agree to the waste hauler’s request to amend the list of recyclables that are not accepted in recycling bins. Those unacceptable items –included because they have limited markets or are now considered a contaminant in bales of recycling materials sent to other countries — are:

– Mixed paper: cups, cartons, frozen food boxes — these include cardboard cartons or aseptic that have a waxed plastic coating that doesn’t break down in the recycling process.

– Metal: Scrap metal, aerosol cans, aluminum foil and trays

– Plastic: cups, deli, baker and product clamshell containers.

Also during the meeting, the council:

– Heard a review of a resolution regarding 2020-24 Recreation and Parks Fees that is set to be approved at the council’s Monday, Oct. 21 business meeting. The resolution includes maintaining some program fees at the current rate while increasing others based on market comparisons with other cities. Among the fees to be increased: rentals of youth and adult sports fields with lights and the American Red Cross Babysitter’s Training course.

– Recommended approval of an amendment — to be voted on Oct. 21 — to the professional services agreement with ARC Architects to include design of a water feature for the new Town Center Park/Plaza. The $47,259 fee for design services will be covered by a $300,000 Hazel Miller Grant the city received for the water feature.

– Had additional discussion on a proposal to increase sewer and stormwater utility rates to cover increasing operating and capital costs. City staff will present more details on these rates, along with a comparison of how the city’s utility rates overall compare to surrounding cities, at the council’s Oct. 31 work/study session.

Also included on the agenda for the council’s Oct. 21 meeting:

– Swearing in new police officers Jeremy Voeller and Noah Rodgers

– Presentation on City of Lynnwood’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Commission

You can see the complete agenda for Oct. 21 here. The meeting will begin at 7 p.m. in interim Mountlake Terrace City Hall, 6100 219th St. S.W., 2nd floor.

— By Teresa Wippel

  1. Now I’m really confused as to what we can put in the recycle bin. I can’t read the Oops list above. Yes please more education. If something has the recycle symbol on it, can it be put in the recycle bin still.

  2. Recycling~ I have ALWAYS recycled, but feel frustration with the periodic changes in “acceptable” materials. Is it possible for council to do some research to find other sources for items NOT accepted in Waste Mgmt containers? King Cty transfer station in Shoreline accepts a number of these items, so there must be other recycling sources and solutions (ie. pizza boxes, torn into smaller pieces, can go right into the compost bin). If citizens knew of other resources readily available, perhaps that would decrease the volume of unacceptable recycle bin items. Please don’t simply say that this is a county refuse issue, and wipe your hands~ its an issue within the city–what can the City and citizenry do to alleviate the problem?

  3. You know, one might start thinking of dropping recycling service. You can drive to the Snohomish County waste facility (dump) to their recycling center and do it for free, most recyclable items are accepted. I believe the only one is plastic.

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