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May 27, 2022

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Bill to ramp up recycling a top priority for green coalition in Washington Legislature

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OLYMPIA — A state Senate bill that seeks to improve Washington’s waste and recycling systems will be one of the top priorities of environmentalists for the 2022 legislative session.

Senate Bill 5697 includes provisions that would shift the burden of curbside recycling costs from consumers to packaging producers. It also would require all packaging and paper products sold in Washington to be designed for reuse, recycling or composting by 2031.

“If it is not … it should no longer be produced. I am very emphatic about that,” said state Sen. Mona Das, D-Kent, a sponsor of the bill, which seeks to reinvigorate Washington’s struggling efforts to keep more waste products out of landfills and incinerators.

The bill is scheduled for a public hearing Tuesday in the Senate Committee on Environment, Energy & Technology.

Within the past decade, the recycling rates in Washington have dropped from 56% to 48.5%. Meanwhile, since 2015, the average annual costs to Washington households for recycling services, in areas regulated by the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission, have risen by 36%, according to Heather Trim, executive director of Zero Waste Washington, which supports the bill.

The legislation is a part of a broader effort, in the United States and elsewhere to deal with a global crisis of plastic pollution, which is sending billions of pounds of plastic into oceans and inland waterways. But it also would apply to paper and other types of products.

Washington is one of at least nine different states where legislators will be introducing bills in 2022 that would seek to improve recycling and shift financial burdens to packaging producers, according to Das.

Das said that there has been a lot of work put into developing a bill that could serve as a model for a broader standard, and that has included input from industry officials.

Trim, in an online meeting organized by the Environmental Priorities Coalition, said the legislation would require packaging producers to pay into nonprofit groups that would fund curbside recycling efforts in Washington.

Trim said these producers would make payments based on how easy it is to recycle their materials, and how much packaging they’re putting into Washington.

She said the concept of producers shouldering recycling costs already has been incorporated into laws in Canada and some European countries.

“Washington recycling has been stagnant for over a decade,” Trim said.

Currently, 58% of Washington municipalities have curbside recycling services. The legislation would expand the curbside recycling to all municipalities where residents now have their garbage picked up.

For the 2022 Legislative session, other priorities for the environmental coalition include:

  • Increasing transportation investments to benefit pedestrians and bikers and public transit, and spending for culverts, handling storm water runoff and reducing greenhouse emissions.
  • Legislation, Senate Bill 5665, to help restore salmon runs, which would include a measure intended to improve tree shade that can improve cooling around streams where the fish spawn and may rear. It also would establish a conservation grant program for stream-side zones. The bill is called “Lorraine Loomis act” for salmon recovery in honor of the late Swinomish tribal elder who fought for tribal treaty rights and died last summer at the age of 81.
  • Legislation, Senate Bill 5042, that would close what Alex Brennan, executive director of Futurewise, calls a “loophole” in the state Growth Management Act that has resulted in the development of some farmland and fish and wildlife habitat.

In 2021, the Legislature passed major climate-related laws. One new law will require a gradual reduction of the greenhouse gas emission from the fuels that power the state’s transportation. Another law charts a course deep into this century, requiring the state to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.

State Sen. Reuven Carlyle, who chairs the Senate Energy, Environment and Technology Committee, said that one major focus this year will be to provide oversight as the rules to carry out these laws are developed. “That is incredibly important,” Carlyle said.

Carlyle also will be working on bills to help jump-start the hydrogen fuel industry in Washington state, and a bill that would offer up to $200 in financial incentives to convert from gas-powered lawn equipment to electric models. Carlyle said that as much as 5% of the air pollution in cities like Seattle may be generated by fossil fuels used in lawn-care equipment.

Gov. Jay Inslee’s climate package includes measures to reduce carbon emissions, primarily from natural gas used to heat homes and other buildings. Bills backed by Inslee would change state building energy codes, building performance standards and building heating standards.

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