What is the state of recycling in the Tri-Cities?

Although each of the Tri-Cities offers a garbage collection service, each handles recycling differently.

Pasco, West Richland and greater Benton County (including Finley, Burbank and other Tri-City suburbs) are served by Pasco’s Basin Disposal Inc. (BDI).

Richland facilitates its own solid waste disposal program and sends its recyclables to Clayton Ward Recycling (CWR) in Richland

Kennewick uses waste management (WM).

What happens locally reflects the state of the recycling industry. And understanding recycling as a global industry can provide insight into why some items are recyclable while others are not, dispel misconceptions, and offer solutions.

4 cities, 3 service providers

BDI does not offer curbside recycling, but instead accepts certain “streams” or types of recyclables at drop-off sites around its service area at no additional charge. Certain items, such as #1 and #2 plastics, are also accepted, but customers must bring them directly to the transfer station.

The City of Richland offers optional curbside service (all recyclables go in a 96 gallon bin) for an additional fee of $7.70 per month for bi-weekly collection.

The city also offers recycling drop-off points, which accept a more limited selection.

Curbside compost collection in a 96-gallon bin is included in Richland’s base cost of $17.50 per month for garbage service. Additional recycling or compost bins cost $2 each per month.

WM offers weekly curbside pickup in mixed bins as part of its garbage collection service: $14.87 per month for a 35-gallon bag or $18.12 for a 96-gallon bag, free of charge additional for additional recyclables that do not fit in the first. trash.

Each collection strategy has advantages and disadvantages, but how each program is administered and what is accepted has more to do with economics than meets the eye.

Supply and demand

In 2021, over 1,115 tons were collected through Richland’s curbside program and 1,306 tons were collected in Kennewick. BDI figures were not available at press time.

Unlike trash, which is usually landfilled in regional sites, recyclables are sorted (including the different types of plastic) by hand and machine at a materials recovery facility (MRF), then baled and sold to domestic and foreign processors.

Previously, more than 60% of Washington’s recyclables were shipped to China, according to the state Department of Ecology.

“In 2018, China, the world’s largest importer of recycled materials, effectively banned the import of most mixed plastics and papers. This has resulted in a sharp drop in raw material prices, increased transportation costs and significant increases in processing,” said Tami Haggerty, Waste Management Senior Education and Outreach Associate for Kennewick.

It was soon after that residents began to see changes in the items accepted for recycling, as waste haulers rushed to switch to domestic buyers.

Accepted items common to the three local programs are aluminum cans, cardboard and plastic bottles, and jugs with a neck (those marked with a #1 or #2), which the Washington State Recycling Association says are still in demand by domestic processors. .

In a perfect world, everything that is made would be made with recycling in mind and eventually be sent back to a recycling facility. However, the current system is limited by the individual MRF capabilities of each government-subsidized company that manages the waste.

Company size is a major factor in the equation – on one side is a hyper local service provider, the City of Richland, and on the other is one of the largest collection companies waste in the United States, Waste Management.

Waste Management’s sorting line works to separate recyclable materials. (Courtesy of Waste Management)

Gail Everett, a communications and marketing specialist and former environmental coordinator for the city of Richland, said Waste Management has more economic resources behind it as a large private company, allowing it to run recycling programs at the scale of the region.

It is more difficult for a collector run by a public works department to pay the initial costs of hiring more workers, buying bins and collection equipment and more to start a recycling program at the city ​​scale.

Unlike solid waste disposal, recycling services are limited by the amount the carrier can earn from the sale of the recyclables. If there is no market for the materials, it makes no economic sense for a carrier to collect and process them.

Take glass for example – one of the greatest packaging enigmas of the sustainability movement – ​​the inert material is, like aluminium, infinitely recyclable. Unlike aluminum, “melting it requires more energy than creating (new) glass from sand,” Everett said.

Therefore, most recyclers no longer collect it. City of Richland still does and Clayton Ward crushes it to sell, but not WM and BDI.

Meanwhile, there is a market for some plastics and cardboard, but not endless, as the quality of the material declines with each replenishment until it can no longer be recycled and inevitably goes to landfill.


Ignorance and “wish-cycling” are two of the biggest problems facing recycling programs.

Both result in contamination and higher costs for recycling processors, with the latter ultimately being passed on to customers through rate increases. Continued contamination can cause some waste streams to stop collecting if customers don’t follow the rules.

The cycle of wishes is when a person puts items in a recycling receptacle that they think should be accepted or are unsure of what is accepted.

Bales of recyclable materials are ready to be shipped to end markets. (Courtesy of Waste Management)

If the items are not accepted, they will be sorted and sent to a landfill or will be missed and contaminate the bales of recyclables.

Unacceptable contaminants such as garbage, plastic bags, plastic foam, packing peanuts, and plastic lids/caps frequently clog sorting equipment, wasting time and increasing processing costs. operation.

If in doubt, check your waste hauler’s website for advice.

Jason Markee, director of operations at BDI, said changes are coming to Washington in the form of legislation that could pave the way for mandatory curbside recycling services across the state.

“There are more and more people coming from Seattle, Portland, and California, and that’s what’s driving a lot of these discussions,” he said.

The systems-level change will make recycling easier and more accessible to everyone, but it’s not just unincorporated businesses and municipalities or even product packaging manufacturers that need to be mandated to adapt.

“We have to reprogram ourselves,” Everett said. “It’s not about recycling, it’s about changing the way we generate waste – looking for less packaging, figuring out if it can be reused or recycled, or can I buy it in bulk, etc.”

She continued, “Just one example: A woman will spend $40 to get her nails done, but won’t take responsibility and spend the money to get rid of the items she’s invested in.

“Reduce, reuse, recycle. This is the last resort, which is why it is listed last.