Solid Waste Division Days – Capital projects, composting right and COVID responses

Though 2020 has been starkly different from years past, the Solid Waste Division continued to fulfill its commitment of providing environmentally-friendly and efficient solid waste disposal and recycling services to King County customers, while advancing its waste prevention and reduction efforts through education campaigns, outreach and service improvements.

Responding to COVID-19 to keep employees and customers safe

With solid waste disposal and recycling services being an essential service, the Solid Waste Division put several measures in place to keep employees and customers safe and ensure vital operations remained accessible to service-area customers.

Division employees who interact with the public the most are its Scale Operators. These women and men are responsible for weighing customers in and out at recycling and transfer stations. They provide information about facility services, and process payments for self-haul and commercial customers. To protect our invaluable employees and the customers they serve, the division installed plexiglass barriers and air purifiers at Scale Houses and provided nets to collect payments. 

In addition to encouraging customers to postpone visits to transfer stations unless necessary, the division enacted a staggered entry system and closed every other self-haul stall to keep as much distance as possible between customers while they disposed of their waste on the tipping floor. Though this sometimes caused longer lines, the division used its social media and other communication channels to inform customers about this change, and encouraged customers to “Check the Line” before heading to a transfer station.   

Other COVID-19-related safety measures included enforcing Gov. Jay Inslee’s statewide mask order and providing masks for customers who may have forgotten one at home. The division also encouraged customers to pay with a card instead of cash and gave customers tips on pre-sorting garbage from recycling before arriving at a transfer station to make a trip even more efficient, as well as more cost effective since there is no fee to recycle materials such as paper, cans, glass and plastic.

Transfer station service improvements continue in South and Northeast King County  

In 2007, the King County Council approved a plan developed by the King County Solid Waste Division and its partner cities to modernize the County’s network of recycling and garbage transfer facilities. Since then, new facilities have been built in Shoreline, Tukwila, and Bellevue. To continue improving services, in 2020 the Solid Waste Division took the next steps in designing a new South County Recycling and Transfer Station to replace the aging Algona Transfer Station, and began the process of siting a location for a new Northeast County Recycling and Transfer Station to replace the 60-yeard old Houghton Transfer Station in Kirkland. Both facilities will be designed to meet modern standards and offer better access to improved waste disposal and recycling services.  

When it starts operating in 2023, the South County Recycling and Transfer Station will be located at 35101 W Valley Hwy S, just north of the existing Algona Transfer Station it will replace. The new station will feature a full array of recycling services currently not available at the Algona station, including convenient hazardous waste disposal for households and qualifying business. Designed with the environment in mind, the station will include sustainable building features, offsite wetlands improvements, on-site creek enhancements, public art, and other community benefits. King County will keep the existing Algona Transfer Station open throughout construction of the new facility. In 2020, the Solid Waste Division conducted a Value Engineering Study to analyze noise, geotechnical, traffic and environmental issues. The division also identified an artist to create public art for the project and held a project open house to share facility design features with the public. Construction is expected to begin in 2021, and the new facility will open in late 2023.

In October, the Solid Waste Division kicked-off the Northeast Recycling and Transfer Station Project by hosting the first of 10 siting advisory group meetings. The group is comprised of 28 members that represent local businesses, community groups, schools, nonprofits, environmental interests, as well as the cities of Woodinville, Redmond, Kirkland, Sammamish, and unincorporated King County. The group’s purpose is to make sure community interests and values are considered by the technical team working to identify a feasible location for the station. Committee members will assist in developing criteria that will be used to evaluate sites and help inform which sites should be further studied in an environmental impact statement set to be published in 2022. Construction is expected to begin in late 2025, with the facility opening to the public in late 2027. 

Are you composting right?

For the past two years, the Recycle Right Communications Consortium has worked to develop harmonized messaging that helps the public know which materials go in which bin and why. This consortium is led by King County, and comprised of communications professionals from the cities of Seattle and Bellevue; the Department of Ecology; and garbage, recycling and compost collection companies. Following its successful campaigns related to recycling right and keeping plastic bags and wrap out of the recycling bins, the Recycle Right Communications Consortium launched a Compost Right campaign in 2020.   

More than 30% of what gets thrown away every day is food waste that could have been composted. That’s why it’s so important to Compost Right. The best way to do that is to put food and food-soiled paper in the compost bin and keep plastic out. Plastic bags, containers and packaging should never be put in the compost because they do not break down and can contaminate compost that people use on their lawns and gardens.

When you compost, you keep valuable resources out of the landfill and avoid methane emissions that contribute to climate change. When compost is returned to the soil, it adds nutrients, retains water, increases yields when growing food and stores carbon. Using compost on lawns and gardens also reduces pesticide use, reduces stormwater runoff and returns important nutrients to the soil so more fruits, vegetables, trees, grasses and other plants can thrive.

No matter if it’s scraps or ends, moldy or rotten, food can always be composted. Though food-soiled paper products like paper towels, napkins and greasy pizza boxes can be composted, cardboard boxes like those that come from a package delivery company should be recycled – just make sure you Recycle Right by keeping the boxes empty, clean and dry.

Just like recycling right, composting right means when in doubt, find out by checking with your compost collection company or city guidelines so you only compost what is accepted. If you’re still unsure if something can be composted, put it in the garbage to avoid contamination.

You can make composting at home even easier by using a compost collection container that will come in handy as you prep, cook and cleanup.

Containers like old coffee cans, ice cream tubs, and plastic pitchers are great for collecting food scraps until you’re ready to put them in your compost bin. You can also purchase containers made from plastic, stainless steel or ceramic to collect your scraps. Store your container wherever is most convenient for you: on a countertop or even in the refrigerator or freezer. Lids help keep odors contained and pests away, and compostable bags make composting even easier. Check your city or garbage, recycling and compost collection company guidelines to see which bags are approved for composting in your area.

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