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State adoption of King County solid waste comprehensive plan clears way for improved regional solid waste management

Summary

With the Washington State Department of Ecology’s formal adoption of King County’s 2019 Comprehensive Solid Waste Management Plan, the County and its 37 partner cities can now embark on carefully outlined goals to increase regional recycling, expand services and modernize facilities, and identify options for waste disposal after the Cedar Hills Regional Landfill reaches capacity.

Story

The formal adoption of King County’s 2019 Comprehensive Solid Waste Management Plan by the Washington State Department of Ecology clears the path for the County and its 37 partner cities to boost the regional recycling rate from 54% to 70%, continue to modernize the transfer system, and find new modes of garbage disposal after the Cedar Hills Regional Landfill reaches capacity.

The plan preserves King County’s ability to manage its solid waste locally at the lowest cost with the least environmental impact by extending the life of the landfill past the mid-2020s.

The newly adopted plan is also sparking larger conversations about the regional actions needed to reach King County’s goal of Zero Waste of Resources, and how to lay the groundwork for a modern, environmentally responsible waste management system that will take the region through the mid-21st century.

“Even though King County’s recycling rates are among the nation’s best, 70% of what is taken to the landfill could be recycled instead of buried,” said King County Solid Waste Division Director Pat McLaughlin. “We need to focus on that 70% and look at ways to divert portions of our current waste stream so we can realize the economic and environmental potential of recovering those resources.”

McLaughlin said continued use of the Cedar Hills landfill past the mid-2020s doesn’t preclude future solid waste disposal methods. 

“Our future disposal options aren’t limited to the ‘either/or’ question of exporting garbage out of the region by rail or building an incineration system,” he said. “Imagine the disposal options we can realistically consider when the waste we need to process is so dramatically reduced by increased recycling.”

McLaughlin said there is a misalignment between municipal solid waste management’s current business model and the Solid Waste Division’s regional zero waste goals.

“We are financially incentivized to bury more garbage because nearly 90% of our revenue comes from landfill fees,” he said. “Addressing this incongruity will take the insight and effort of our regional partners, including cities, commercial waste haulers, and other stakeholders.

“It’s an uncharted challenge but also a tremendous opportunity to create a sustainable national model for waste disposal and recycling, and we look forward to getting to work,” he said.

King County will address these issues early next year with its solid waste advisory committees members, which will be asked to help focus the Solid Waste Division’s Zero Waste of Resources Plan. 

Among the issues up for examination are rate restructuring, legislative goals around stewardship, expanding existing recycling markets and cultivating new markets, and laying the groundwork for future disposal options once the landfill closes – expected sometime around 2040.

The next Comprehensive Solid Waste Management Plan update will include detailed analysis of these topics and is due in 2024. 

King County operates eight transfer stations, two drop-boxes, the Cedar Hills Regional Landfill, and many programs to help customers recycle. Learn more about the Solid Waste Division at kingcounty.gov/solidwaste.

RELEVANT LINKS

2019 Comprehensive Solid Waste Management Plan 

QUOTES

 

Even though King County’s recycling rates are among the nation’s best, 70% of what is taken to the landfill could be recycled instead of buried. We need to focus on that 70% and look at ways to divert portions of our current waste stream so we can realize the economic and environmental potential of recovering those resources.

Our future disposal options aren’t limited to the ‘either/or’ question of exporting garbage out of the region by rail or building an incineration system. Imagine the disposal options we can realistically consider when the waste we need to process is so dramatically reduced by increased recycling.

We are financially incentivized to bury more garbage because nearly 90% of our revenue comes from landfill fees. Addressing this incongruity will take the insight and effort of our regional partners, including cities, commercial waste haulers, and other stakeholders. It’s an uncharted challenge but also a tremendous opportunity to create a sustainable national model for waste disposal and recycling, and we look forward to getting to work. 

Pat McLaughlin, Director, King County Solid Waste Division

 


FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT:
Doug Williams, Department of Natural Resources and Parks, 206-477-4543

About the King County Solid Waste Division
The Solid Waste Division provides environmentally responsible solid waste transfer and disposal services in King County. The division operates eight transfer stations, two rural drop boxes, and the Cedar Hills Regional Landfill – the only operational landfill in the county. Our stakeholders include residents and business owners in unincorporated King County and 37 cities throughout the county. We work closely with our stakeholders to continue our national leadership in waste prevention, resource recovery, and waste disposal.