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Originally published Wednesday, September 11, 2013 at 8:11 PM

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Seattle businesses may have to recycle more

A proposed city ordinance would require commercial customers to start recycling tin, aluminum, plastic and glass in addition to paper and cardboard.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Annette Heide-Jessen, co-owner of the Kaffeeklatsch Bakery on Lake City Way Northeast, grew up in Berlin recycling and reusing almost everything.

She’s carried that ethic to her North Seattle bakery, where the tables and chairs were reclaimed from other restaurants, the plastic glasses are compostable and customers are encouraged to stay and use ceramic cups rather than disposable hot cups that will end up in a landfill.

“It was a shock to come to a culture where everybody throws everything away,” she said.

Now the city of Seattle wants to make more businesses step up their recycling efforts and reduce what they throw in the garbage.

On Thursday, Councilmember Jean Godden will introduce legislation to require commercial customers in the city to add glass, aluminum, tin and plastic to the paper and cardboard they must now recycle.

Residential customers have been required to recycle glass, plastic, tin and aluminum since 2005. They now recycle 71 percent of their total waste, compared with 61 percent for businesses.

People who live in apartments and condos lag far behind, recycling 32 percent of their waste, but multifamily properties make up the smallest fraction of the total tonnage of the city’s garbage at about 20 percent, according to the 2012 Recycling Rate Report compiled by Seattle Public Utilities (SPU).

“There’s no reason why we shouldn’t be able to do the same recycling at work as we do at home,” said Godden, who chairs the council’s Utilities Committee.

Under the proposal, the city would require the stepped-up recycling beginning in January, but would launch an education and outreach campaign that would run through July.

The utility would then start tagging garbage that had significant amounts of glass, plastic, aluminum, tin, paper and cardboard to alert businesses to the problem.

Civil infractions of $50 for the third offense could be levied beginning in 2015.

The city argues that because garbage costs more to haul than recyclables, businesses can save money by diverting more glass and plastics. A chart prepared by the utility shows that a small restaurant could save as much as $186 a month on its solid-waste bill and a medium retailer up to $784 a month.

The city will provide free recycling pickup for two 95-gallon containers.

“Commercial businesses are the biggest generators of waste,” said Brett Stav, senior planning and development specialist in SPU’s solid-waste division. “They represent the biggest opportunity for recycling diversion for the city.”

But increasing recycling efforts will present challenges to businesses, Stav said. Owners have told SPU it involves retraining staff that is often part time or short term, retraining the facilities staff that actually dumps the waste, as well as property managers who often aren’t on site.

Steve Cornell, a property manager of both commercial and multifamily properties in the city, including the Lake City Square development that includes Kaffeeklatsch, said getting businesses to identify recyclables and add them to the recycling bins can be difficult.

“It’s a real challenge to get people to do it,” he said. Businesses are required to break down boxes for recycling, but many don’t even do that, he said. And some properties have fenced Dumpster areas that aren’t large enough for additional recycling bins.

But Cornell said his company “will do whatever is necessary to make it work.”

At Kaffeeklatsch, Heide-Jessen is leading the way.

She made a customized poster that hangs above the garbage, composting and recycling cans with pictures of objects from the restaurant: a tea bag and a compostable plastic cup above the compost bin, a drawing of a soda bottle as well as clean paper wrappers above the recycling bin, and a shred of plastic wrap above the garbage.

She said the bakery has tried to reduce trash as much as it can and make it as easy as possible for customers to know what goes where. But customers still hesitate. A lot of recyclables and food waste get dumped in the garbage can.

Despite being an uber-recycler, Heide-Jessen is not willing to make her staff go through the garbage and pick out the wet napkins and discarded food that shouldn’t be there.

Still, she’s thrilled that other businesses will be joining hers to get more recyclables out of the waste stream.

“It’s a great thing,” she said.

Lynn Thompson: lthompson@seattletimes.com or 206-464-8305. On Twitter @lthompsontimes

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