Under the Recycling “Tipping Point” Plan, approved by Walla Walla City Council on Nov. 6 to go into effect Jan. 1, if the month’s cost of processing curbside recyclables is higher than the cost of dumping them in the landfill, they’ll be dumped. The calculation is simple — too simple. This policy would reduce costs approximately $40,000 in 2020, but at what cost?
Recycling will be effectively discontinued. If this policy had been in place for 2019, recyclables would’ve been continually landfilled since February. We’ll be operating a recycling program that doesn’t recycle. Raising the monthly recycling rate by 37 cents would avoid the “Tipping Point” policy entirely, but City Council didn’t choose this option. “The purpose of this plan is to save money for recycling customers,” though that feels disingenuous without offering reduced-capacity garbage bins for lower rates.
The “Tipping Point” equation uses an extremely shortsighted calculation. It doesn’t include longer-term costs to the city and residents, such as attempting to restore functionality following break-down of habits and infrastructure once residents lose confidence. It doesn’t include sunk costs in bins, staff training, and resident education — plus, the city’s upcoming two years of $60,000-grant-funded contamination reduction/behavior change work will be undermined. (Contamination is part of why costs are rising — the few people who put garbage in their recycling bins hinder real solutions.) Nor does it include the costs of economic development while sustainability-minded businesses and developers are repelled, and of comprehensive planning required as the Sudbury Landfill reaches capacity sooner.
It doesn’t include longer-term costs to humanity, such as the social cost of carbon (SCC), used by the EPA and Washington’s clean energy bill to estimate climate impacts in decision-making. The SCC of landfilling Walla Walla’s recyclables throughout 2020 is estimated at $369,804, as greenhouse gas emissions throughout the materials’ lifecycles are estimated to increase by 4,691 MTCO2E — equivalent to adding 996 passenger vehicles for a year or burning 5,128,498 pounds of coal. The “Tipping Point” plan directly conflicts with City Resolution No. 2017-56 (Regarding Climate Change) and Resolution No. 2012-31 (Adopting Greenhouse Gas Reduction Policies and Guidelines).
I hope the City Council will revisit its decision and consider alternatives at its next meeting on Dec. 4 at 7 p.m., in Council Chambers, City Hall, 15 N. Third. If you are concerned about the future of local waste management, please show up for this meeting. Let’s help them make the right decision.