Opinion | Closure of Cedar Falls recycling is decision some will regret

When I moved to the Valley a couple of years ago, the ease of the blue bin was one of the things I bade farewell. Without curbside service at my new place, recycling now required the drive up to Rattlesnake Lake and the county Cedar Falls Transfer Station.

Many’s the time I procrastinated on that trip, hardly relishing a half-hour trek just to dump my bulging container of tin and paper. During all the cold, wet winter and spring of 2011, one bin turned into two, then three. I was sorely tempted to chuck the lot into the trash, but my wife—a die-hard recycler—and her fierce, no-nonsense reaction prevented this lazy step.

Instead, like that woman in the Pemco Insurance commercial, I duly sorted and stacked, bagging the soda bottles separately from the cardboard, then made the windy trip out through the verges of North Bend to the row of big blue bins, where I carted and tossed. I’d pop on the iPod, and crisscross that rainswept stretch of asphalt at Cedar Falls, dumping my sacks of cardboard, all the while taking in the sights. Over here was a row of glass art sculptures placed there by some aesthetically-minded attendant. I wondered about the lives behind the recyclables—the wine enthusiasts and magazine subscribers whose leavings filled the bins.

When I was 18 years old, I worked in a campus recycling station, and talk about a Sisyphean task—I still remember the smell of stale beer cans and wet paper. Sorting those bulging bins of paper or stacks of cans was a tough, dirty job. Yet, technology keeps improving the process. Home recycling options keep getting cheaper, and more and more stuff can be recycled these days. Overall, it’s a steadily improving picture for most of us.

At the same time, though, we are losing our last free public bins. Today, Cedar Falls is the Valley’s last and only public recycling facility—there are no other public bins in Snoqualmie, North Bend or Carnation. The county plans to eliminate five of its eight recycling sites on February 1, on the grounds that closures save $400,000 a year.

I now have curbside recycling, and am lucky to be able to chuck those cereal boxes and magazines into a blue bin just a few steps away. I don’t miss the drive to Cedar Falls, but, just like our lost polling places, abandoned for all-mail voting, I am chagrined at the vanishing of our public recycling places. These were visible, if messy, spaces of purpose, where you could bump elbows with neighbors who share your values.

Anyone who’s ever lived on the fringes of a community understands the importance of the recycling station. It’s hardly Starbucks or the Sallal Grange, but it is a gathering point of another sort.

We recycle for the same reason that we give to charity, join a community organization or help our neighbors: We’re trying to leave a more positive than negative footprint in our community. Recyclers understand that every act has a cost, and that if we stop, if we all get lazy, we will all pay a price—in more expensive goods, in bigger, more costly landfills, and in a denuded earth.

The closure of Cedar Falls leaves no nearby alternative for free recycling. Now, it’s pay to play. The county says this move will reduce pollution by eliminating trips to Cedar Falls. But will that be offset by folks driving on to Snoqualmie Pass, the nearest remaining station? And will folks stop recycling because they don’t want to pay for it? What happens to their waste?

In an era of county and state budget crisis, this is one more sign of the times. The old methods of funding things like recycling don’t work anymore, so the costs of services are getting passed to people in new ways. Needs must when the devil drives, but for those who relied on the old model and made it a part of their way of life, this change is a disservice.

A done deal, the decision was also a bit low-profile, announced by signs about a month ago, as well as an alert on the King County Solid Waste webpage. How often do you go to the Solid Waste web page?

But comments are still being accepted by the county. If you've got something to say about the closure of the bins, do so by calling the Solid Waste division at (206) 296-4466 or visit your.kingcounty.gov/solidwaste.


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