Recession's Upside: Seattle is Sending Way Less Trash to the Landfill

Less work for this guy.
Forget the Dow Jones Industrial Average. If you want to know how the economy is doing, go root around in city dumps. And bring a scale. Because one thing this recession has taught us is that the amount of garbage we produce is directly tied to how much money we collectively have.

Consequently, Seattle Public Utilities manager Hans Van Dusen tells Seattle Weekly, the amount of garbage Seattle sent to the landfill over the last two years dropped 20 percent --from approximately 440,000 tons in 2007 to 360,000 last year. This year, the city's garbage output is on track to shrink by another 8 or 9 percent.

The reduction has been most dramatic in the commercial sector, as more and more businesses stopped generating trash simply because they shut down, says Van Dusen. Increased recycling played a role in the trash downsizing too, he says.

Call it the recession's silver lining, one that is not only good for the environment but the city's pocketbook.

Seattle, which sends its garbage to a Waste Management landfill in Oregon, pays to dispose of its trash by the ton. Each one sets the city back by $40, so the city's savings since 2008 should amount to about $4.5 million by the end of this year.

Still, SPU expects to ask city council this summer to increase its budget and approve "slight" rate hikes for collection services, says Van Dusen. That's largely because SPU is slated to spend $120 million on rebuilding its two aging dumps ("transfer stations," in bureaucratic parlance) and constructing a new recycling center in South Park.

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