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Tacoma-Pierce County Solid Waste Management Plan

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Pierce County Councilmembers are scheduled to vote, near month’s end, on updates to our road map for garbage management, known officially as the Tacoma-Pierce County Solid Waste Management Plan (author’s note: not to be confused with the contract discussed on page 7 in this fine rag). The nearly 250-page document outlines new strategies for dealing with garbage. The single-most cost effective way to do that is to create less of it. Much of the update outlines new strategies for dealing with garbage, and many of them sound like things citizens should demand the county follow through on. Maybe help with. 

“There’s a lot of good stuff in there,” says Bud Rehburg, Solid Waste Advisory Committee member, who notes there are concerns about the implementation phase of the plan, despite its seeming good intentions and some worthwhile goals. 

Pierce County officials note in the plan update that despite current waste reduction and recycling efforts, the amount of municipal waste disposed could grow by 30 percent if population continues to grow as projected. We are recycling about a third as much garbage as we produce. 

“We are a wealthy society, and our economy is partially based on producing and consuming goods,” the report reads. 


But consumption isn’t the only culprit. Local studies indicate that homes are being built larger, and producing more waste, and growing amounts of construction and remodeling contribute even more to what garbage-heads call “the waste stream,” which almost sounds kind of nice. Cheaper consumer products that break and break down with increasing frequency, combined with low prices for replacements, means more items such as appliances are going to the dump instead of being repaired. Increasingly wasteful packaging is contributing more and more to ever-mounting piles of garbage.  


“The more complex reason is our wasteful culture,” the report reads. “We are generating greater quantities of waste. We live in a time when industry builds obsolescence into the products we use; witness the ever-growing need to replace electronics such as computers, televisions, and cell phones.” 


We can fix it several ways, according to county planners. 

First, officials stress that waste reduction, reclamation and recycling is essential. There are a couple reasons for that. First, changes in state law make it next to impossible to create new landfills, which means increasing volumes of waste and ever-dwindling space to put it. We have to find ways to create less garbage or to do something with it other than bury it in Graham. Traditional methods such as recycling would be supplemented by sending certain kinds of garbage somewhere else, while finding ways to use the garbage in new and exciting ways. That means more composting, for example, and expanding yardwaste collection, which begins in earnest next year. Yardwaste and other organics can be converted into gas and other fuels, or can be converted into fertilizer, for example. 

The county also promises to step up education efforts because, let’s be honest, we’re the ones creating all this stuff. County officials would like to see us reduce the amount of waste being disposed by more than 75 percent per person between 2007 and 2032, from 4.5 pounds per person per day to 1.09 pounds per person per day. 

Rehburg stresses that citizens will have to get involved, in the political arena and at home, to make sure any of this happens. A “waste audit,” he says, will be the first step toward figuring out how we tackle all this trash. Once that data is in, he encourages people to remain aware of how county officials go about implementing plans. 

“There’s a whole host of things that are good,” he says. “The problem is how it gets interpreted.” 

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