On Monday, October 11, the Seattle City Council adopted an ordinance regulating the distribution of unwanted yellow pages phone books, the next step towards Zero Waste in Seattle.

The new law creates an Opt-Out Registry that Seattle residents and businesses can access on the web, by phone or by mail, which will be operated by an independent contractor.  Yellow pages publishers will pay 14 cents per book to cover the costs of operating the registry. The legislation includes penalties for yellow pages publishers who continue to deliver books when requested not to.

The legislation also includes charging an ‘Advanced Disposal Fee’ of $148/ton to the companies to cover the cost of recycling phone books.  Since the Advanced Disposal Fee will be based on the number of phone books distributed, there will be an economic incentive for the companies to honor opt-out requests.  Seattle Public Utilities estimates that it costs the City $350,000 annually to recycle yellow pages phone.

I initiated the Zero Waste Strategy in 2007.  Councilmember Mike O’Brien now chairs the Committee that oversees it, and has taken the lead in moving Zero Waste to the next level.  Councilmember O’Brien’s Committee has endorsed a budget proposal to require food waste composting in multi-family buildings, and a pilot project for every other week garbage collection for single-family residences.  While some multi-family buildings currently offer food waste composting, the Zero Waste Strategy called for a mandatory program, as is currently in place for single family.  The diversion of food waste from garbage cans to composting has reduced the amount of garbage collected from single family, allowing Seattle to consider every other week garbage collection, as envisioned in the Zero Waste Strategy.

The goal of Zero Waste is to actually reduce the amount of waste that the City sends to the landfill.  Resolution 30990 set as City policy that we will not dispose of any more total solid waste in future years than went to the landfill in 2006, 438,000 tons, and that for the next five years, the City will reduce the amount of solid waste disposed by at least 1% per year.

We have overachieved.  Waste sent to the landfill was cut by 10.2% in 2008 and 10.9% more in 2009, to a total of 352,000 tons.  While some of this decrease could be the result of the economic downturn (garbage generation traditionally decreases during recessions), probably at least half of it is the result of the actions taken through the Zero Waste Initiative.  And there is a lot more action to come.