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Originally published Thursday, December 26, 2013 at 4:24 PM

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Editorial: Less frequent garbage pickup in Seattle needs sorting out

A proposal for less frequent trash pickup for Seattle homes is a worthwhile idea, but it needs fine-tuning.

Seattle Times Editorial

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THE politics of garbage are so potent that they can move even Homer Simpson to action. In “The Simpsons” episode “Trash of the Titans,” Homer rises from the couch to win election as Springfield’s sanitation commissioner, outraged his garbage wasn’t picked up.

Apparently undeterred by the specter of Commissioner Simpson, the City of Seattle is flirting with the prospect of less frequent trash pickup. It’s a worthwhile idea — potentially saving customers money and encouraging recycling and composting while reducing noisy, polluting trucks in neighborhoods.

But a recent six-month experiment with every-other-week trash pickup for homeowners in four Seattle neighborhoods shows that this idea has to be carefully executed because not all trash is created equally.

Customer satisfaction in what is known as the “One Less Truck” initiative, dropped by 26 percentage points, even with a $100 payment to customers in the experiment. In surveys, customers dropping baby diapers and pet waste into the trash were the most unhappy. So were those who felt they needed larger cans — at added cost. A fear of rodents was expressed.

These issues can be mitigated. Lower customer costs would help; a household with a 20-gallon can would be saving $7.15 a month. Renton and Portland have every-other-week trash pickup, and they haven’t become rat-infested stinkholes.

Less frequent trash pickup is also an incentive to recycle and use yard waste bins as compost bins. Seattle Public Utilities is already moving in that direction, with plans to eliminate cans and bottles in commercial waste next year and banning all food waste in garbage in the future.

Change can be hard, and simply dropping whatever into the garbage can is easy. Seattle recycled more than 55 percent of its municipal solid waste in 2012. Getting to the city’s goal of 70 percent by 2025 will require work.

For less frequent trash pickup for single-family households, the first step is for Seattle Public Utilities to put its trash haulers on notice the change may come in 2015; the Seattle City Council gave that authority recently. Incoming Mayor Ed Murray and the City Council should refine financial incentives and make sure there is ample mitigation for customers with special issues, such as stinky diapers.

For inspiration, we can hum along to Homer Simpson’s rendition of “The Garbage Man Can.”

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