YAKIMA -- Recycling has been slow to catch on in Yakima, and the term "mandatory recycling" is even less popular.
But Yakima County officials say the time has come to explore a countywide recycling strategy that would require cultural change on the part of political leaders and residents.
Here's why: Removing recyclable material from garbage will extend the life of the county's Terrace Heights landfill, keeping the county's landfill rates -- already lowest in the state -- cheap.
But, adds Yakima County Commissioner Mike Leita, recycling is more than that.
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"It is the right thing to do," he says. "We are being very wasteful by dumping (recyclable material) into the landfill."
No community in the Yakima Valley or Central Washington, including the Tri-Cities, has mandatory recycling. Most have nothing other than drop-off bins, if that.
A private company, Yakima Waste Systems, offers a convenient curbside service for $6.50 a month, but only in the Yakima area. The service includes a large blue and gray bin on wheels similar to a garbage can, and there's no need to separate material.
Recycled paper is an especially important commodity locally and is used by Michelsen Packaging to make tray liners and other packaging for the fruit industry.
In a recent interview, Leita said county officials are exploring a countywide recycling strategy not only to hold down landfill costs but also to prepare for the strong possibility that state lawmakers will someday mandate recycling programs.
He said recycling has not been on the front burner because more immediate problems -- budget cuts, jail contracts and regulations on storm and ground water -- are higher priorities.
But recycling is on the agenda, he added.
A 2003 study estimated that close to 40 percent of the material being dumped daily at the Terrace Heights landfill was easy-to-recycle paper, plastics and metal.
With the landfill set to max out in 2019, county officials say the fee to dump at $30.89 per ton -- the state average is somewhere between $65 to $70 a ton -- will go up when garbage has to be trucked to the county's Cheyne landfill near Zillah.
The biggest users of the Terrace Heights landfill are the city of Yakima and Yakima Waste Systems which, in addition to the curbside recycling service, also picks up garbage in suburban areas of the city.
Although he stopped short of calling for anything mandatory, Leita made it clear that county officials would like local municipalities, particularly Yakima, to start recycling.
"We control the landfill," he said. "I suppose I could say we have the authority to say if you don't recycle you can't dump here, go find your own landfill. But we're good guys ...
"Bottom line, we would welcome any city, especially the city of Yakima, to initiate recycling efforts. There's nothing preventing them from doing that, except leadership."
In Yakima City Councilman Dave Edler, Leita has a key political ally.
He said he would like city staff to explore the possibility of a mandatory recycling program in the form of a private-public partnership with Yakima Waste Systems.
"It's a fishing expedition, I guess," he said. "Pushing for what I would call cultural change. That comes hard around here."
Resistance to change would include some of his colleagues on the city council.