Garbage rates going up in Kent to cover recycling surcharge

Republic Services asks city for higher fee

Garbage rates are going up in Kent to help Republic Services cover higher costs for hauling recyclables and yard waste.

Residential customers who use the most common size 32-gallon container will see garbage rates go up about $14 per year under a proposal to the city by Republic Services.

Arizona-based Republic Services, which contracts with the city to handle garbage, yard waste and recycling, requested a 96 cents per month recycling surcharge to residential customers. The company also asked for a small price hike to cover an increase by processor Cedar Grove for yard waste fees charged to the hauler.

The City Council’s Public Works Committee recommended 3-0 on Aug. 19 that the full council approve the price jumps at its Sept. 3 meeting. The new rates would start in September. Republic Services’ contract with the city requires rate hikes to be approved by the council.

While the recycling surcharge is the same for all residential customers, the tipping fee increase varies depending on the size of the garbage can used. Most customers use 32-gallon containers, and will see a 19 cents per month hike. The rate is 6 cents per month for 13-gallon carts up to 63 cents per month for 96-gallon containers.

In Kent, recycling and yard waste are embedded in the cost of the monthly garbage rate. The monthly rates range from $5.79 for a 13-gallon container, $11.58 for 20 gallons, $19.25 for 32 gallons and up to $63.22 for a 96-gallon container. Those rates adjust each year for inflation, a 0.4 percent increase this year.

The recycling surcharge for multifamily and cart-based commercial customers will be $2.98 per cubic yard of garbage produced.

Republic Services approached the city in April about a recycling surcharge because the value of recyclables has dropped and it’s harder to find markets to take the items. China stopped taking plastic trash imports last year after decades of buying plastics from the United States. The country was taking in too much trash, and profits faded because much of the plastic was contaminated, according to a March report on National Public Radio, npr.org.

“We spent time with Republic and they are losing $65,000 a month with what they are taking out of Kent,” said Chad Bieren, city Public Works deputy director, to the council committee.

City and Republic Services staff agreed on the surcharge to cover the recycling market losses. As part of the deal, city staff and Republic Services also agreed to extend the company’s contract with Kent to 2029 from 2023.

“Republic did sweeten our deal a bit,” said Councilmember Dennis Higgins, chair of the Public Works Committee. “Although no one likes to see a surcharge like this, we are seeing what are some of the lowest garbage rates in King County extended an additional six years. This is not the council just saying, ‘Yes Republic whatever you want.’ It’s Republic saying we have a situation here and if you work with us. …We are getting something back with this.”

The surcharge will be evaluated each year of the contract by the city, so if recycling markets rebound, the surcharge could drop, according to city documents.

The amended contract also requires Republic Services to develop a contamination reduction program. The city lowered the contamination threshold for curbside containers from 20 percent to 10 percent.

Details remain to be worked out, but Republic Services is expected to use cameras on its trucks that view containers being dumped or inspectors who look at carts before they are picked up to determine whether a customer has too many contaminants in the container.

Bieren said that might sound like the “garbage police,” but the goal is to put a tag on a container to let the resident know it has too many contaminants and won’t be picked up or let them know certain items aren’t recyclable.

“Part of the reason we got here is contaminated items made it to China, and they don’t want that anymore,” Bieren said. “Cleaner recyclables bring a better price.”

Other cities recently passed similar recycling surcharges, according to Kent city staff. Covington adopted a surcharge of 96 cents for residential customers. Burien, Shoreline and SeaTac passed surcharges of about $1.37 per month.

“There are some cities that have looked at doing away with recycling entirely,” Higgins said. “I very much disagree with that idea. We have invested thousands of dollars and decades of time in schools to educate about recycling, and it extends the life of the landfill and it’s the right thing to do for the environment.

“I feel this (price hike) is the right thing to do. Republic opened their books to us and documented why there’s a need for this and if conditions change, we have the opportunity to roll this fee back.”

As far as the tipping fee increases to haulers, new regulations by the state Department of Ecology require Cedar Grove to have a cleaner compost materials to sell, said Tony Donati, city Public Works conservation coordinator. Compost had plastic bags and contamination in it, and new technology removes a lot of that material, but the new technology comes at a price.

As with the recycling surcharge, Republic Services is looking to pass that fee onto customers, Donati said.

City staff also pointed out that the more items people put in the recycling or yard waste containers, the smaller garbage cart they need which can save them on monthly fees.

Editor’s Note: For more information about recycling costs, go to this ThoughtCo.com link: thoughtco.com/benefits-of-recycling-outweigh-the-costs-1204141 .

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