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Originally published June 22, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified June 22, 2007 at 2:02 AM

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Mayor wants to curb landfill dependency — is recycling table scraps next?

First, Seattleites were told to recycle glass, paper and aluminum, or risk having their garbage left on the curb. Now the city wants residents...

Seattle Times staff reporter

First, Seattleites were told to recycle glass, paper and aluminum, or risk having their garbage left on the curb. Now the city wants residents to recycle food scraps starting in 2009.

Mayor Greg Nickels and City Councilmember Richard Conlin on Thursday proposed stricter rules for sorting trash as part of a comprehensive plan to raise the city's recycling goals and limit the amount of trash sent to landfills.

The city currently recycles 44 percent of its garbage, and Nickels on Thursday set a goal of 60 percent by 2012 and 70 percent by 2025. In 2003, the mayor set a goal of 60 percent by 2010 but has now pushed that back two years.

"The problem with garbage fundamentally is there just is too much of it," Nickels said at a news conference.

The plan still requires City Council approval, and it's not clear how much more it would cost customers.

In San Francisco, 69 percent of trash is diverted from landfills and the city plans to reach 100 percent by 2020. In Portland, 59 percent was diverted from landfills in 2005.

Seattle's recycling slipped in the late 1990s and has only recently returned to 1995 levels.

On Thursday, Nickels dropped plans to build a new trash facility in Georgetown, part of a $160 million proposal that also included rebuilding a transfer station in the Fremont/Wallingford area and another in South Park.

Those two stations would still be rebuilt. Constructed in 1966, they are "old, unsafe, environmentally outdated," Nickels said, "and cannot accommodate our recycling goals."

The stations also now need to expand to handle truck traffic that otherwise would have gone to Georgetown.

Residents opposed Nickels' plan for Georgetown, saying it would have increased truck traffic in their neighborhood. Conlin never moved it out of the utilities committee he chairs.

If the plan passes, residents of single-family homes would be required to recycle food waste in two years, a program that has been optional since 2005 for $5 a month. The city plans to accept meat and dairy in the yard-waste bins. Now only vegetable scraps and food-stained paper, such as pizza boxes, are permitted.

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In 2010, the city would begin punishing people in single-family homes who don't recycle food scraps by not collecting their garbage. For apartments, recycling food scraps would be optional. The ban would not apply to restaurants or grocery stores, which produce twice as much food waste as residents do.

The city last year began requiring residents to recycle 90 percent of their glass, paper, cardboard, tin, aluminum and plastic or risk having their trash left behind. Businesses, which are required only to recycle paper, cardboard and yard waste, and apartment buildings that don't comply after two warnings get a $50 fine.

Garbage haulers look inside garbage cans, but not inside trash bags, to check whether customers are complying. In the first year of enforcement, garbage haulers left behind just 1,207 cans out of 6 million, the city said.

The city also plans to study banning packaging such as plastic grocery bags and plastic foam. San Francisco has already banned plastic foam at food-service businesses, and a plastic grocery-bag ban will take effect in a few months.

Seattle Public Utilities says it would also look at incentives for businesses to recycle more construction debris.

These efforts, Conlin said, will cap the amount of trash the city sends to an Oregon landfill at 440,000 tons per year, the amount the city sent in 2006. The city's population of about 570,000 is expected to grow by 100,000 by 2024.

"We started this with the dramatic realization that every day the people of Seattle send a mile-long train of garbage to be dumped in a hole in the ground in Oregon," Conlin said. "We cannot be the sustainable city that Seattle wants without confronting that reality of waste."

Sharon Pian Chan: 206-464-2958

or schan@seattletimes.com

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