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The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.
News / Opinion / Columns

Ranta: Build on recycling strengths

By Derek Ranta
Published: January 15, 2024, 6:01am

If our state had an official community activity, it would be recycling. Our shared commitment to environmental stewardship takes a lot of forms, but the work that we all do at home every day to reduce waste may be the most important. As one of the approximately 14,700 workers in the solid waste and recycling industry across our state, I am proud to partner with my fellow residents of Clark County to help increase recycling.

Washington’s recycling rate is 49 percent, 50 percent higher than the national average. After decades of investment in curbside service, sorting facilities and a commitment by the public to put items in the right bins, Washington has a lot of strengths that we can build on.

Our state Legislature is considering a proposal that would help increase our recycling rate. House Bill 1900 is a collaborative approach to advancing recycling efforts that have broad support in our state.

This legislation would initiate a needs assessment so that we have a data-based analysis of our current local strengths and needs for additional investment. Each community recycles differently and our shared work to increase our recycling rate should be built on these local needs and strengths.

The legislation would adopt truth-in-labeling standards already in place in other states that would make it clear for consumers what may be recycled.

As we pursue a higher recycling rate, we should look for ways that we can further help consumers be more effective in their commitment to environmental stewardship while also protecting them from any unnecessary costs. That’s why we are concerned about separate proposals that suggest Washington adopt a bottle deposit system like our neighbors in Oregon.

Oregon implemented their bottle system decades ago and without the benefit of our state’s investment in curbside service, which has eliminated the need for residents to collect and drive their used bottles to a drop-off location. Such a system would not build on our state’s strengths and would add unnecessary costs on consumers.

We cannot be successful in recycling more if we do not also tackle packaging materials. We are encouraged that House Bill 1900 seeks to expand our state’s groundbreaking 2021 law to require certain packaging to contain a minimum amount of recycled content.

Washington residents have long partnered with the recycling and solid waste collection industry on a shared goal of environmental stewardship. But we cannot be successful unless those manufacturing packaging join us as a partner in reducing waste.

The rest of the country is trying to catch up to Washington’s successful investments in recycling. That doesn’t mean our work is done, but it does mean that we should be thoughtful on how we can best take advantage of our state’s strengths. Every Washington resident is a partner in those strengths, and legislative proposals to increase our recycling rate should be built on that partnership.

Derek Ranta of Vancouver is the District Manager for Waste Connections, a local provider of curbside solid waste collection, transfer, recycling and disposal services in Clark County.