A local look at recycling

Where, how and how much of our waste winds up getting reused



Sequim Gazette

Every item recycled in Sequim contributes to a global waste stream of used materials connecting communities worldwide.

“Sequim has about a 75 percent weekly set out rate,” Kent Kovalenko, DM Disposal Inc., district manager, said. “That’s pretty good.”

The set out rate is the percentage of customers that get their recycling to the curb for collection. The rate can rise and fall depending on many factors, such as vacations or simple forgetfulness, he said.

Within Sequim city limits residents are required to both participate in the garbage and recycling service offered through the city via its contract with DM Disposal Inc. — a company overseen by Waste Connections.

Through this service, recyclables from about 1,700 Sequim city residences are picked up every other week, contributing to the county’s overall tonnage, which equated to more than 17,000 tons in 2011, according to the Clallam County Comprehensive Solid Waste Management Plan 2014 update.

To manage the amount of recycling produced in Sequim and countywide, “about 26 tons of recycling, four days a week” is trucked off the Olympic Peninsula, Kovalenko said.

Where does it all go?

After collection, the recycling is taken to a facility in Port Angeles to be compressed and baled for transport to recycling operations where it’s then sorted and sold to domestic and non-domestic markets.

Most of the recycling from Clallam County, including Sequim, is taken to Pioneer, a recycling copmany in Tacoma, Kovalenko said. If not Pioneer, “it goes to whoever can take our material,” he added.

While many countries are just now constructing mills and the infrastructure to manufacture, Kovalenko said, very few mills are being built in the U.S; thus, many commodities (recyclable metal, plastics and glass) are sold internationally.

Helen Freilich, waste reduction specialist for the City of Port Angeles and Clallam County, estimates about 50 percent of the area’s recycling is exported to Asia. But, consistent with the ever-changing industry of recycling, she also noted the percentage of exported material easily can change depending on the market.

“China, for example, used to take anything, but now they’re getting more picky,” Freilich said. “Sometimes we get stuff sent back that we don’t know what to do with, so we really need to come up with more local uses.”

Perhaps, supporting this market trend with China, Kovalenco explained how a few years ago China began integrating its own curbside garbage and recycling services and therefore doesn’t rely so heavily on the U.S. for recycled material. However, India is becoming a “major player” in the global market, he said, as “we’re starting to see ‘Made in India’ on a lot more products.”

Locally, on the Olympic Peninsula, there are two companies, Nippon Paper Industries in Port Angeles and the Port Townsend Paper mill that create recycled products, Kovalenko said.

Costs and transformations

Because like most industries, recycling is a global one and therefore impacted by the economy, Kovalenko hasn’t seen a “good commodity” since about 2008.

“Right now, prices are low,” he said.

Yet, despite the low prices for recyclable material, the costs associated with collecting and transporting recycling within a more rural area remains, Freilich said.

Although allowing for recyclables (except for glass) to be placed in a single container greatly increased the amount of customer participation because of its convenience, as well as increased the overall safety of the truck drivers, “it’s not perfect,” she said.

“There are more sorting costs involved and more contamination,” she said.

The concept of charging people to recycle things also is a mental transition as the industry itself continues to develop.

“Recycling, especially on the West Coast is relatively new,” Kovalenko said.

A reflection of how quickly recycling habits have changed, Mike Brandt, City of Sequim operations manager, admits seeing a “total turnaround” both publicly and within the city since he began working for the city 20 years ago.

“When I first started with the city, it (recycling) was about the furthest thing from anybody’s mind,” Brandt said. “It used to be that places would pay you for things like used batteries and glass, but it’s not like that anymore.”

About four years ago, city officials began using used oil to heat the shop at the city’s Public Works Maintenance Yard. Repurposing about 1,500 to 2,000 gallons of used oil through a furnace specifically designed to recycle oil warms the shop for an entire season, Brandt said.

Kovalenko would like to see more “niche” recycling, but to expand the types of material being recycled requires a certain volume.

“There are a lot more services that could be provided if the volume existed,” he said.

Before rolling out a new recycling program, Kovalenko needs to be sure there’s both enough material to make it sustainable and that there’s an economically viable market for it.

“I want integrity behind everything we do,” he said.

Within Kovalenko’s 25 years working in the industry, he too has seen dramatic changes in recycling habits, uses and technology.

“It used to be you only had one garbage and everything went in it,” he said. “But since then there’s been a diversification of the waste stream.”

For example, there’s a lot of energy being put toward isolating hazardous paints, he said.

Consumer trends also can have an impact on recycling, he said, like the 30 percent drop in the amount of recyclable paper available for the paper market because of trends like the increased use of electronics.

Countywide from 2005-2011, the amount of mixed paper recycled jumped 239 percent, recycled newspapers dropped 65 percent, but electronics rose 5,768 percent, according to the Clallam County Comprehensive Solid Waste Management Plan 2014 update.

Given the nature of the industry, Kovalenko can’t predict the future of recycling, but can ensure in a decade from now it will be different.

“The more we learn, the more the industry continues to change,” he said. “The ultimate goal is always to use less.”

One possible change on the horizon and reoccurring topic of conversation at the local level is the question of whether to require garbage and recycle service countywide.

“Currently about 36 percent of the county’s population resides in areas where collection service is mandatory and the remainder is largely in rural areas where it is voluntary,” according to the Clallam County Comprehensive Solid Waste Management Plan 2014 update.

In more urban counties it’s common to require curbside garbage and recycling countywide, but for residents in Clallam County, going to the either the Blue Mountain Transfer Station or Regional Transfer Station “seems to be part of the culture,” Freilich said. Still, recommendations to consider a combined service ordinance for Clallam County for curbside recycling and garbage and to further investigate the impacts of instituting universal collection service countywide, are found in the Clallam County Comprehensive Solid Waste Management Plan 2014 update.

Reach Alana Linderoth at alinderoth@sequimgazette.com.


What, where to recycle in Sequim

• Glass: Glass isn’t allowed in curbside containers, but can be freely disposed of at collection boxes at: Evergreen Collision Center, 703 E. Washington St., or Public Works Maintenance Yard, 169 W. Hemlock St.

• OK for curbside recycling: plastic bottles, plastic jugs, phone books, paper bags, paper food boxes, cardboard, buckets, aluminum cans, mail, magazines, mixed paper, metal cans, plant pots, plastic tubs.

• Yard waste/brush: Yard waste is available for curbside collection for an additional fee, if interested, call 452-7278. Yard waste also can be hauled to the Regional Transfer Station for composting.

• E-waste: Electronics, such as televisions and computers can be taken to Goodwill or taken to EcycleNW, an electronic waste recycle service located 1.5 miles east of 7 Cedars Casino between Blyn and Sequim on U.S. Highway 101. For more information, visit ecyclenw.com or call 912-3634.

Transfer stations:

• Regional Transfer Station: 3501 W. 18th St., Port Angeles. Call 417-4875. To reach the recycling center, call 417-4874.

• Blue Mountain Transfer Station: 1024 Blue Mountain Road. Call 417-4874.

• 2good2toss program:

An online material exchange where items are posted for $99 or less.  Visit 2good2toss.com to access an online “Recyclopedia” with current information on what and where to recycle, locally.