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500-plus Mercer Island households opt out of trash service

City workers moved dumpsters that used to sit at the boat launch and Homestead Field to stop illegal dumping at those places. City workers report that some Islanders feel it is their right to place personal trash in city receptacles. - Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter
City workers moved dumpsters that used to sit at the boat launch and Homestead Field to stop illegal dumping at those places. City workers report that some Islanders feel it is their right to place personal trash in city receptacles.
— image credit: Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter

How we dispose of our trash has become a big part of our lives. We sort, flatten, wash and store a good deal of it. Yet, the most important thing is that someone else takes it away. But not all Islanders choose garbage pick-up. Some devise their own ways of dispensing with it.

City officials estimate that more than 500 Island households do not have regular garbage pick-up. Unlike other cities that require garbage collection, city of Mercer Island laws do not mandate that households sign up with Allied Waste to pick up their trash.

City officials call these individuals “self-haulers.”

Self-haulers have a couple of ways to manage their trash, store it and take it to the landfill via a transfer station, or sometimes dump it illegally.

Some dump their trash in city park trash receptacles, according to city officials.

“We know from our parks workers who pick up trash that illegal dumping goes on here,” City Maintenance Director Glenn Boettcher said. “We hear from businesses and Allied Waste [the city’s garbage service] that people take advantage of open or unlocked dumpsters.

“It is illogical to assume that self-haulers take their trash to county transfer stations every week; it costs a good deal of money,” he added.

Rates posted on the King County Solid Waste Web site indicate that it costs $17.25 per car (sedan) to enter the gate at the Factoria transfer station. That amount covers up to 320 pounds. All other vehicles, including station wagons, lift-backs, vans and mini-vans, recreational vehicles and SUVs, are weighed in and out and charged for the actual weight disposed at $102 per ton. There is no recycling facility at the Factoria transfer station.

Allied Waste charges Islanders $10 per month for a 20-gallon can and $19 for a 32-gallon can. All levels of service come with recycling and yard waste bins free of charge.

According to Thea Severn at the King County Solid Waste Division, most trips to the transfer station by individuals are large loads. People make periodic trips for big items or moves, she explained.

“What that does leave out is that self-haulers must be either storing their trash or dumping it illegally. Storing trash presents its own problems as far as health and safety regulations,” Severn said.

Should Mercer Island join other regional cities in requiring curbside trash pick-up?

“What the county has seen is that even when a city or government requires that each household have curbside pick-up, illegal dumping is not affected,” Severn said. “[Mandatory] pick-up does not seem to make illegal dumping go away.”

Just 13 out of 37 municipalities in King County outside of Seattle require mandatory garbage collection.

Boettcher indicated that the city has no plans to implement mandatory trash pick-up.

Those who have curbside trash and recycling pick-up seem to be doing a good job.

Data from Allied Waste indicates that Islanders are prolific generators of both recyclables and yard waste, Boettcher said. In 2008, more than 3,000 tons of recyclables and 4,500 tons of yard waste were picked up at the curb on Mercer Island.

Planners say that the amount of trash generated over time fluctuates with the economy. Higher employment and incomes mean that more trash is generated, and the opposite is in effect when the economy weakens. Yet at the same time, the total amount of trash and recyclables has declined due to changes in packaging and the promotion of recycling programs.

Figures from the King County and the Mercer Island recycling center and other western U.S. cities reflect this trend. According to Boettcher, back in the early 1990s the recycling center at Mercerdale Park collected about 1,100 tons of paper, glass and tin. The center, as of November, brought in just 700 tons for 2009. The market for recycled materials does not support much of the material now collected by recyclers both large and small.

The Mercer Island School District, along with the city, plans to finalize closure of the Mercerdale facility in the next few months.

City employees who pick up trash at city parks and open spaces have seen illegal dumping firsthand. People pull up in their cars and dump everything from household trash to bags of dirty diapers and more. Aaron Heyer, the city’s parks manager, says that he and his crews have seen illegal dumping for years, yet it seems that it has gotten somewhat worse, with more people dumping big items.

Sometimes, individuals drive up in front of workmen to unload their household trash at city parks, Heyer said. When workers ask them what they are doing, they are often defiant or don’t see anything wrong with using park trash cans. “They say, ‘I pay my taxes,’” he explained.

Dumpsters at the city boat launch and at the parking lot at Homestead Field have simply been removed after repeated illegal dumping incidents. Bins there were sometimes overflowing with everything from contractor waste to boat parts and appliances.

Heyer said that the time it takes city crews to clean up and haul extra trash at Island parks is from 30 minutes to an hour a day.

Parks with the most illegal trash include Island Crest Park, the tennis courts at the Park on the Lid, Clarke Beach, Groveland Beach and the South Mercer Playfields, he said. But, it is not all household trash, Heyer said; there is often the telltale red plastic cups and bottles from parties.

For more information about rates for curbside trash pick-up and recycling for Island residents and the most recent comprehensive plan in the works for solid waste management in King County, go to www.mercergov.org and http://your.kingcounty.gov/solidwaste/about/planning/comp-plan.asp.

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