New legislation proposed by the Washington state Department of Ecology hopes to address some of those deficiencies in regional recycling and solid waste management. The ultimate goal is to attract more businesses to recycle and use materials in the state, and offer state help for waste managers at the county and city level as they better plan for how to manage the stuff they collect.

The bills (HB 1543/SB 5545) haven’t had a hearing yet, but Ecology hopes it’ll be taken up soon in either chamber, says Laurie Davies, Ecology’s Solid Waste Management program manager. Local governments are currently required to make plans for how to deal with their solid waste, but Ecology hopes to add a requirement that they also plan for the end game for the materials they collect, Davies says.

What do they know can be recycled, which materials are hard to recycle right now, and which materials have markets? When those markets go away, what’s the next option? “Things may ultimately be recyclable, but not have a market now,” Davies says. “We don’t want them to just throw it away.”

Under the legislation, Ecology will also update its own statewide plan, which can be adopted by small areas that don’t have enough staff to write their own plans, Davies says. It’ll answer similar questions, and address things like recyclable storage.  No area is required to collect any certain materials for recycling, she says, but if an area opts to take a material, they need to have a plan for it.  “It’s to get the counties to start thinking about what they want in their waste streams, and to be able to market what they have in their residential single stream,” Davies says.

Single stream refers to a process where people dump all recyclables in the same bin. In other areas, it’s sorted into separate bins by residents before pickup. In Spokane, single stream recyclables are collected and taken to the Waste Management SMaRT Center (or Spokane Materials and Recycling Technology Center), where equipment and workers sort through all sorts of material. However, “wishful” recycling, aka throwing away things people hope are recyclable but aren’t, can clog up the process there, and plenty of garbage has to be pulled from the conveyor belts by workers every minute.

The second priority of the legislation is to create a Recycling Development Center, which wouldn’t be a new building, but a cooperation between Ecology staff and workers at the Department of Commerce, Davies says.

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