Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission
Under RCW 70.95.090 and RCW 70.95.096, the UTC must review county Solid Waste Management Plans (Plan) to assess impacts on solid waste collection rates charged to customers by UTC-regulated solid waste haulers. The law further requires the commission to advise the county and the Washington Department of Ecology on the probable effects of the Plan's recommendations on solid waste collection rates.
In October 2018. the commission sent a letter to Washington county commissioners to address the rate impacts of specific county policies that require collection of certain materials for recycling. The commission also notified the counties that it would consider whether the Plans include evidence that those recyclable materials have a positive economic value.
Below are answers to frequently asked questions related to the commission's authority and request.
Do counties need to amend solid waste management plans before the next review period to meet the requirements listed in the commission's October 18, 2018 letter?
No. The commission is not requiring plans be amended before the next review period and has no authority to do so. However, the commission recommends counties begin the process of identifying those recyclable materials that have no economic value so that the UTC can determine the rate impacts of county policies. Those additional costs should be reflected in a transparent way to the ratepayers.
Why is recycling non-marketable materials more expensive?
Materials that are classified by counties as recyclable, but have no market value, incur a number of costs including processing costs at a Materials Recovery Facility (MRF), as well as the cost of transportation and disposal at a landfill. This is more costly than merely disposing of non-marketable materials by directly transporting them to, and disposing of them in, the landfill.
How does the UTC expect counties to demonstrate positive economic value for recyclable materials?
Positive economic value can be demonstrated through contracts, current market data, or documents from MRFs or recycling centers demonstrating a market value for materials collected for recycling or for processing.
Why is the UTC focused only on the current market costs for materials?
Processing unmarketable materials that eventually end up in landfills increases costs to consumers. The commission is required to assess the plan's impact on the costs of solid waste collection. Solid waste haulers regulated by the commission are increasing rates as a direct result of changes in the recycling market. Counties can help reduce, or mitigate, cost impacts by focusing on collecting recyclable materials with a positive economic value. If a county chooses to increase disposal costs, then those costs should be transparent to ratepayers.
Will the UTC reject a plan if it does not include evidence of third-party intent to purchase commodities?
No, the commission does not have the authority to reject a county solid waste plan. The commission will focus its review on the cost impacts of collecting recyclable materials with no market or economic value.
What if markets change between plans?
The county may update its plan with an amendment, as it would with any changes in assumptions or costs between updates.
Is the UTC saying that it will not accept a plan that includes the following as a required recyclable: glass, plastic bags (including plastic film and wrap), aseptic packaging, shredded paper, or #3 – 7 plastics without documentation of contracts or other indication of third-party intent to purchase?
If a county is in the 120-day review period, does it have to go back and consider the commission's request?
The commission has no authority to require resubmittal. However, the commission's recommendations will now include the cost and rate impacts of collecting recyclable materials with no market and no economic value.