On Friday, April 8, Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) welcomed 14 Chinese elders to the new South Transfer Station for a tour of the facility and a presentation about composting. Community leader Alan Lai interpreted into Cantonese and Mandarin for the visiting elders.
The state-of-the-art South Transfer Station was completed in 2013, replacing the old South Recycling and Disposal Station. The new station was designed to provide increased safety and efficiency. It processes about 180,000 tons of garbage, food and yard waste, and recycling each year, serving over 100,000 cars and trucks annually.
Substantial thought went into making the new station environmentally friendly. Landscaping uses native plants that require relatively little water, and the roof catches and routes rainwater into a large cistern for storage. The collected rainwater is then used to wash away loose materials and maintain a clean station floor. Rainwater is also used for rinsing vehicle tires as they come out of the station, which helps keep local streets clean.
Visiting elders had the opportunity to see the Station’s 10,000 square-foot main floor, where cars and trucks unload garbage, recyclables, yard waste, food waste, and other materials for transfer to further processing facilities. Elders observed large trucks full of garbage from Seattle households dumping their loads onto the floor.
On average, each Seattle household throws away roughly 15 lbs of garbage per week. Trucks collect this garbage six out of every seven days, driving it to one of the local transfer stations. At the South Transfer Station, waste is dumped onto the Station’s main floor, then pushed into a trash compactor and loaded into shipping containers. Trucks transport these containers to the station’s rail yard. Six days a week, every week of the year, our city sends a mile-long train, full of compacted garbage, almost 300 miles away to be dumped at a landfill in eastern Oregon.
Seattle has made incredible progress in recent decades, now recycling and composting more than half of the garbage it generates. Our city diverts over 100,000 tons of food and yard waste from landfills each year. Still, the elders were shocked to learn about the amount of trash we produce, and that all of our garbage is transported over such a large distance.
In contrast, food and yard waste and recyclables can be processed and given new life locally. Food and yard waste is delivered by truck to a nearby regional composting facility, where organic waste is processed and aged into rich compost. This finds its way back into our gardens and parks. Recyclables are transported to local recycling plants to be sorted, screened, and baled, after which the bales are sent to recycling mills and made into new products.
The tour of the Transfer Station was followed by lunch and a presentation on composting.
Up to 30% of Seattle’s garbage is made up of food waste. In January 2015, Seattle implemented a “no food in the garbage” law that requires businesses and residents to compost food instead of throwing it in the trash.
All of the elders who participated in the tour live in apartment (sometimes called “multifamily”) buildings. Promoting composting has proven particularly challenging in multifamily residences, according to SPU. Barriers to composting in these environments can include not knowing where the building’s composting bin is located, limitations on living space that make finding a place for personal composting bins hard, and the perceived inconvenience or difficulty of composting. Lack of knowledge around what can be composted poses an additional challenge for residents.
Raising awareness about the types of items that are compostable can help reduce the amount of food and yard waste that ends up in the trash. To do this, SPU said it recognizes that it is crucial for immigrant and ethnic communities to have access to composting information in-language.
Community Recycling Specialist Socorro Medina provided a presentation and demonstration, interpreted into Cantonese and Mandarin by Alan Lai, to clarify what materials are compostable, what should be recycled, and what must go in the garbage. Elders were provided with an informational pamphlet in Chinese to use as a guide for their homes. To strengthen their learning, elders were then engaged in a game of “composting bingo,” with apartment countertop sealed composting bins as the prize
In addition to the composting tips provided, elders were encouraged to consider other ways to reduce waste. These include:
- Recycling junk mail, and visiting www.seattle.gov/stopjunkmail for free services to help you reduce the amount of junk mail you receive. American households get an average of 848 pieces of junk mail each year, equal to roughly 1.5 trees.
- Using reusable bags for groceries and shopping.
- Instead of throwing away unwanted clothing or toys, trying to sell, reuse, or donate those items.
- Buying products made from recycled materials whenever possible.
Visit www.seattle.gov/util for more waste reducing tips.