Garbage collection is about to get better, cleaner — and cheaper

Yesterday Seattle Public Utilities briefed the Council on a pair of new contracts it has negotiated with Waste Management and Recology. And there’s a fair amount of good news.

SPU puts its garbage, recycling and compost pickup service out to bid every ten years. The current contract runs out next April, so the utility put out an RFP late last year. It divided up the city into four areas and allowed companies to bid on any subset (or the whole). Of the four bidders, SPU chose two — the same two it uses today (Waste Management and Recology), for the same areas they serve today.

The new 10-year contracts are substantially similar to the existing ones: they cover garbage, recycling, and compost for all households in the city, garbage for commercial organizations, public litter and recycle can service and neighborhood cleanup. Garbage and compost will continue to be weekly, and recycling every other week.

However, there are several incremental improvements, including:

  • Expanded neighborhood cleanup, including improved community engagement with cleanup crews to target debris, graffiti and other community impacts.
  • Expanded curb pickup and drop-off services for “special item” recycling (foam packaging, textiles, CFLs, electronics, and wood scraps).
  • The city retains the option to provide “every other week” garbage collection in the future if it so desires.
  • Additional customer outreach and intervention on recycling and composting.
  • New collection containers — all with attached lids and wheels (Even the small ones).
  • Side guards on trucks to increase safety for bicycles.
  • Enhanced customer service support for business customers.

The new contract also expands on existing environmental initiatives:

  • The companies will roll out new fleets of trucks with clean engines that surpass the latest emissions standards. Waste Management’s fleet will use renewable natural gas (utilizing the company’s landfill production credits), and Recology’s will use renewable diesel from animal fats and other waste grease.
  • Both companies will begin introducing electric vehicles into their fleets.  That includes several electric pickup trucks and support vehicles, some midsize trucks for small collection routes and container delivery, and two heavy-duty collection trucks for initial feasibility testing.

The best news: the annual cost for the contracts is $5 million less than originally projected in SPU’s strategic plan. That will save the city — and ratepayers — $50 million over the life of the contracts. According to SPU officials, that won’t mean our rates will go down, but they will increase at a slower pace than planned. The City Council has already approved rates through March 2020, so they might choose to revisit them.

The Council voted the contracts out of committee yesterday, and they will be up for final approval on Monday.