‘A pathway to zero waste’: King County explores innovative technologies to meet waste reduction goals 

This year, the King County Solid Waste Division launched Re+, with an ambitious goal to reduce the amount of waste going to our regional landfill by 70% by 2030. The plan outlines actions to reduce waste at every point in the lifecycle of the products and items we use. In addition to reusing more, reducing single-use items, and expanding access and effectiveness of our recycling and composting programs, the County is investigating a new technology, called mixed waste processing, that can capture and divert valuable resources from the stuff that does end up in the garbage bin.  

Georgia-Pacific's Juno mixed waste processing facility. 
Georgia-Pacific’s Juno mixed waste processing facility. 

Mixed waste processing covers a range of existing and developing technologies that sort and recover recyclable and reusable resources, such as metal, paper, or organics from the waste stream. These facilities can act as a last screen for our garbage, working in tandem with municipal recycling and composting programs to divert valuable resources from mixed waste before it goes to the landfill. It’s estimated that mixed waste processing could divert between 50,000 and 300,000 tons per year from landfill disposal. As part of the Re+ plan, the Solid Waste Division is working to understand how mixed waste processing could be used here in King County.  

This spring, the County partnered with Georgia-Pacific to evaluate their mixed waste processing facility, called Juno. During the three-month pilot project, King County shipped about 750 tons of municipal solid waste from the Renton Recycling and Transfer Station to the Juno facility in Toledo, Ore. The purpose of the project was to test how much recyclable material could be recovered from garbage that would typically go to the landfill.  

In early May, King County staff and partners visited Juno to see the facility in action. “We wanted to see what the future of recycling might look like and discover a pathway to zero waste for King County,” said Pat McLaughlin, King County’s Solid Waste Division Director. 

“This evaluation will give us a better idea of how mixed waste processing works and how it can be used with other waste reduction and prevention strategies to help us achieve King County’s Re+ goals of zero waste and a lower carbon footprint,” McLaughlin said. 

King County Solid Waste Division and Juno staff.

The Juno facility uses heat, pressure, and other sorting methods to recover paper fiber, to be made into cardboard and paper products, and metal from mixed waste. “We have found that we can divert about 50% of the waste that comes to the facility,” said Franz Cosenza, Juno plant manager. “So, for every 100 tons of garbage we receive, 50 tons are recovered and can be recycled into something new.” 

Based on preliminary findings, the pilot resulted in an average diversion rate of up to 50%, meaning nearly half of the material that would have gone to the landfill was recovered, mostly as recyclable paper fiber, metal, and non-potable water for industrial uses. King County is working with Georgia-Pacific for a full analysis of the pilot, including understanding energy and water use and identifying potential steps to improve that diversion rate.  

King County has a long history of leading in waste management innovation including establishing one of the nation’s first curbside recycling programs, with one of the highest recycling rates in the U.S. The Re+ plan includes additional steps to evaluate ways to incorporate mixed waste processing into our regional solid waste system, including future tours and evaluations of other facilities. The County is also partnering with industry experts to gain a better understanding of how mixed waste processing could be integrated into existing waste infrastructure and to identify markets for recovered resources.  

Aerial view of the Juno facility’s sorting process. 

 “Re+ and its zero-waste goal stands to be the most transformative change in our regional solid waste system,” said McLaughlin. “Bringing policies, partnerships, and new technologies into King County is essential to making the vision of zero waste a reality.” 

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