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Department of Ecology invites input on updating solid waste laws

OLYMPIA - The Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology) will hold three workshops in Eastern Washington to gather information and input about issues related to the state's solid waste management and recycling laws. All those who are interested are encouraged to attend.

Washington state is a leader in solid waste management and recycling. In the mid-1980s Washington's recycling rate was less than 20 percent. Significant recycling and waste reduction laws were passed in 1989.

Since then, local governments have implemented programs and policies to achieve higher rates of recycling. Private industry has invested in equipment to collect recyclable materials. Citizen participation in recycling programs has increased. Markets responded to new available flows of material. Today, the state recycling rate is 45 percent.

However, waste continues to be generated, nearly 16 million tons in 2008. Some of it was recycled or otherwise diverted from disposal. But nine million tons was thrown away, even though much of it didn't need to be treated as waste. Since 2003, more than $1 billion worth of recyclable materials has been buried in landfills. The state has yet to reach its 50 percent recycling goal set in the law. And the amount of waste created continues to grow -- from 6.6 pounds per person in 2000 to 7.5 pounds per person in 2008.

New approaches to handling materials bring new challenges to protecting human health and the environment. There are now products that weren't imagined when the original solid waste laws were passed. There are also new types of solid waste handling facilities and technologies, along with a lot more waste.

"We want to hear from everyone interested in our solid waste and recycling systems," said Jay Shepard, Ecology Waste 2 Resources Program.

"It's important that we start looking at these resources as materials of commerce rather than garbage."

The workshops are Tuesday, April 13, in Ephrata from 1 to 4 p.m., at the Grant County Public Works, located at 124 Enterprise St SE; Wednesday, April 14, in Yakima, from 1 to 4 p.m., at the Department of Ecology, located at 15 West Yakima Ave, Suite 200; and Thursday, April 15, in Spokane, from 1 to 4 p.m., at the Magnuson Center, located at 2917 W. Fort George Wright drive.

According to Ecology, reducing and recycling wastes saves energy, reduces pollution and conserves natural resources. The Legislature established priorities for solid waste management. They start with waste reduction, then recycling. The last resort is disposal.

The state solid and hazardous waste management plan, called "Beyond Waste," sets a goal to reduce most wastes and toxic substances.

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