Curbside recycling in Whatcom County began in 1982 when volunteers from Bellingham's Birchwood neighborhood collected paper, newspaper, cans and bottles from a small network of residents. They loaded bags and boxes into a borrowed pick-up truck and hauled it to Northwest Recycling in Old Town.
By 1989, with 10 neighborhoods involved, demand outstripped the volunteers' capacity and the City of Bellingham engaged Sanitary Service Company to operate a city-wide curbside recycling program, one of the first in the nation. Familiar red, white and blue bins soon appeared on every street. In 1991, curbside recycling expanded to reach a wider audience as residential curbside went countywide, the first in Washington State to do so. In 1992, recycling service expanded again to all apartments countywide and was made available to businesses, schools and institutions.
Steven Berry was hired that first summer as one of the recycling drivers. Twenty-four years later, Steven Berry is still dumping 750 bins per day over his head, a staggering 50 million pounds personally collected over Steve's career! Northwest Recycling still processes all of Whatcom County's curbside material. New materials have been added since 1989 - plastic bottles (1993), plastic containers, trays and lids (2005), and empty aerosol cans (2011). Thanks to customers, Sanitary Service Company's program has less than 1 percent contamination, compared with typical single stream programs that routinely have 10-15 percent contamination.
Today, more than 50,000 homes are served -- from Lummi Island to Glacier and Silver Lake to Lake Samish. Since 1989, local residents have recycled an estimated 509 million pounds of materials curbside, saving the average household $60-$100 each year.
In 2004, Bellingham residents began signing up for Sanitary Service Company's curbside yardwaste collection. A year later, food scraps and food-soiled papers (cups, cartons, paper towels, etc.) were added. Today, FoodPlus! has almost 7,000 subscribers, annually diverting10 million pounds from the landfill to Green Earth Technology in Lynden to be turned into compost.
While industries have recycled metals for many years, until the 1990s, most local businesses didn't have easy ways to recycle. Twenty years on, thousands of Whatcom businesses now save money by separating cardboard, wood and metal, mixed paper, bottles, cans and plastic containers, and compostables for curbside collection. Plastic film and bags are now collected from businesses, while contractors are able to recycle numerous scrap materials from their jobsites. Since 1991, local businesses have saved millions of dollars recycling an estimated 260 million pounds of materials curbside - net savings just for 2012 are estimated at $1.5 million.
Since the early 1990s, local public and private schools have helped students learn about resource conservation, with established recycling programs in every district in the county. To take just one example, from 1992-2013, Sunnyland Elementary School in Bellingham netted more than $45,000 in garbage savings while diverting an estimated 425,000 pounds of recyclable and compostable materials from the landfill. Just one school!
Each school day, more than 25,000 students and staff, from kindergarten through university, participate in Sanitary Service Company's FoodPlus! program. Bellingham Technical College's Culinary Arts program piloted FoodPlus! and it quickly spread to Western Washington University and Whatcom Community College. Our graduates are carrying the message of sustainability into their careers across the globe, with experiences and lessons learned right here in the Fourth Corner.
The City of Bellingham, Whatcom County and Port of Bellingham carefully manage their wastes as well - each building in these jurisdictions, and in many of the small cities in our county, have full recycling and waste prevention programs in place. Port marinas and county parks have long offered recycling. City of Bellingham recycling bins were enthusiastically received downtown and in Boulevard Park, and have now been added in Fairhaven. We're taking good habits from home and work and applying them in public spaces. The Bellingham Public Works Department is even recycling ground up porcelain toilets and sinks as "Poticrete," and using it for new public sidewalks and driveways.
Citizens and shoppers, business owners and employees, public servants and teachers, students and farmers - everyone has a role in resource stewardship. To the citizens and all the public and private partners involved in resource management in Whatcom County - congratulations on 31 years of leadership and success. See you at the curb!
TAKE OUR POLL
Sanitary Service Company provides recycling services to much of Whatcom County, including Lummi Island. For information go to ssc-inc.com.
Nooksack Valley Disposal serves communities along the border, from east of Blaine through Lynden, across to Sumas, including Nooksack and Everson, plus the area north and west of the Mount Baker Highway between Nugent's Corner and South Pass Road. For more information go to nvd-inc.com/recycle.htm.
These tips are from Sanitary Service Company:
Set out recyclables in marked recycling containers when full. Set in a visible location by 6:30 a.m. on your collection day. The bins should weigh no more than 35 pounds each.
Place bins six feet from your garbage toter.
If it's windy, don't stack the bins, as they litter more if the stack tips over. Place the bins in a row. Put newsprint and mixed papers in paper sacks on their sides in the bins and/or a brick on the papers. Place heavier bottles and cans on top.
For disposal of toxic items, call 360-380-4640 for options.
For customers serviced by Sanitary Service Company:
Recycling cans and bottles
Remove tin can labels to recycle separately with mixed paper.
Flatten all aluminum or tin cans and foil.
Recycle only empty, non-hazardous aerosol cans. Leave cap on if possible and set out in box or paper bag.
All colors of rinsed glass bottles and jars are allowed. It's OK to leave on labels and lids. Avoid breaking glass.
All colors and numbers of plastic containers are allowed. Rinse and nest together if possible. Flatten bottles and leave on plastic caps. Remove metal handles on plastic buckets.
Clean newsprint and advertising inserts should be recycled in the newspaper bin.
Recycling mixed papers
Old mail, magazines, catalogs, stationery, envelopes, computer paper, notebook paper, paper labels, cartons, bags, shoe boxes, cereal boxes with the liners removed should be recycled in the mixed paper bin. Flatten or fill with mixed paper to save space.
Place shredded paper in a paper bag.
Recycling other materials
Break down and flatten all cardboard boxes and set out next to containers. Remove packing materials and excess staples or tape. Cardboard stacks may not exceed 24 inches by 48 inches by 6 inches. If it's windy, bundle, tape or top with a rock to prevent blowing.
Used motor oil, stored in a one-gallon or smaller, sealed, non-breakable container such as a milk jug may be set out with other recyclables next to containers. Don't use a bleach or water bottle. Mark the container "oil."
Set out no more than 35 pounds of scrap metal such as steel, copper, aluminum and brass in a box or paper bag and place next to containers.
Car, truck, motorcycle and boat lead acid vehicle batteries and sealed lead acid batteries for security, emergency, backup and mobile medical devices may be set out with other recyclables next to containers. Leave battery caps on. Set out in a box or paper bag.
Items not accepted
Alkaline and carbon zinc household batteries may not be recycled and should be disposed of with regular household garbage.
Any kind of hazardous, toxic, radioactive or dangerous waste(s), ammunition, explosives, dead animals, CFL/fluorescent lights, old gasoline, solvents, antifreeze, oil or air filters, asbestos, pesticides, oil-based paints or hot ashes are not accepted for recycling.
Window glass, windshields, Pyrex, CFL/fluorescent light bulbs, mirrors or ceramics may not be recycled.
Buckets larger than one gallon may not be recycled.
Plastic pumps, Styrofoam, clamshell containers, tableware/utensils, pipe, foam rubber, insulation or plastic containers that held potentially hazardous products such as motor oil, antifreeze, solvents, paint, pesticides, etc. may not be recycled.
Newspapers in plastic bags may not be recycled.
Multi-layered food containers may not be recycled.
Paper plates, napkins, towels, tissue, wax or plastic-coated boxes or papers such as milk, juice or frozen food containers may not be recycled.
Cracked or leaking or rechargeable batteries may not be recycled.
SOURCE: Sanitary Service Company Inc.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Rodd Pemble is recycling manager at Sanitary Service Company, Inc., which was honored as the 2012 Green Business of the Year by the Bellingham-Whatcom Chamber of Commerce & Industry.