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Seattle’s Recycling Rate Soars

Recycling rate increases for seventh straight year, to 53.7 percent

For the seventh straight year, the Emerald City’s recycling rate has risen — hitting an all-time high of 53.7 percent.

The recycling rate for individual families rose to a whopping 70.3 percent.

According to the City of Seattle’s annual recycling report, released today, the amount of Seattle’s solid waste diverted from the landfill and into recycling and composting rose by 2.6 percent in 2010, the largest year-to-year increase since 2006.

Seattle’s goal is to divert 60 percent of its municipal solid waste to recycling and composting by the year 2012, and 70 percent diversion by 2025. Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) estimates that residents and businesses will need to recycle and compost approximately 45,000 more tons a year in order to reach the 2012 goal.

SPU cites changes to the city’s curbside recycling and composting services, in 2009, as the primary factor in most of the 2010 recycling rate gains. In April 2009, Seattle allowed more items to be recycled and composted and made it easier for residents to participate through weekly collection of organics, as well as commingling of all recyclables into one cart. Three of Seattle’s four municipal solid waste sectors achieved record recycling rates:

  • The commercial sector’s recycling rate increased the most, going from 54.9 percent in 2009 to 58.9 percent in 2010. Strong markets for recycled paper account for most of the increase, followed by increased food waste diversion.
  • The single family sector increased by 1.6 percent, to 70.3 percent. Increased food waste collection accounts for most of this gain.
  • The multi family sector’s rate rose by 2.6 percentage, to 29.6 percent — a notable turnaround given this sector’s recycling rate decreased in 2009. Again, increased food waste collection drove most of this gain.

This year, Seattle launched several waste reduction initiatives, including mandatory food waste collection service for apartments and condominiums, as well as a new phone book opt-out system,, which allows businesses and residents to choose which yellow pages phone books they want to receive and which ones the don’t want.

Overall, Seattle disposed 335,570 tons of waste into a landfill in Arlington, Oregon in 2010 — 16,000 fewer tons than 2009, and more than 140,000 tons less than what the city land-filled in 2000. In addition to larger environmental impacts, it costs Seattle nearly twice as much to send material to the landfill, nearly 300 miles away, than to recycle it. Approximately half of the city’s garbage is still made up of recyclable or compostable material, primarily food waste, paper and construction materials.