Chapter 4 – Waste Management in Olympia

The State of Washington requires each County to administer a solid waste system for its residents, including the development of a comprehensive solid waste plan. Footnote 8 The Thurston County Solid Waste Program is responsible for the overall administration of the County’s solid waste system, which all County residents and the City of Olympia rely on for garbage and hazardous waste disposal, and transfer of organic materials to composting.

The County operated a landfill near Hawk’s Prairie until 2000. It was closed just prior to reaching capacity and a transfer station was constructed to move garbage by truck and rail to Roosevelt Regional Landfill in Klickitat County. The County operates and maintains the transfer station and sets general policy for material management countywide.

Thurston County also establishes minimum service levels for unincorporated areas and cities who defer to the County program. Waste from these areas is collected by private haulers. The City of Olympia sets its own service levels and relies on Thurston County for final disposal of garbage and hazardous waste.

This chapter reviews the history of waste management in Olympia and Thurston County; organizational relationships and customer classes; and the legal and policy framework which the Waste ReSources Utility operates within.

4.1 History of Waste Management in Thurston County

The discussion below and Table 4-1 review the chronology of key events leading up to the present.

Waste Disposal

From the early 1900s to the late 1960s, waste was dumped and burned at several sites. In 1935, the City began using an area on the Westside near Ascension Avenue, and at some point moved the landfill to Cooper Point Road and Black Lake Boulevard. This 13-acre site was used until 1968.

In the late 1940s, Thurston County began using a 140-acre site of an old quarry near Hawks Prairie for dumping and burning garbage. In 1972, the County dump at Hawks Prairie was converted to a landfill, meeting standards of the Federal Resource Recovery and Conservation Act (RCRA). As each section was filled, it was covered. The last 20-acre section was operated from 1991 until 2000, when it was capped; closure was complete by 2002. In May 2000, the site was renamed the Thurston County Waste and Recovery Center (WARC) and began being used as a transfer station.

Garbage Collection

The City of Olympia began collecting garbage in 1938 when Olympia City Commissioners passed Ordinance 2298 creating a Garbage Fund and a Garbage Department. Municipal service was initiated to ensure efficient collection of trash and to maintain public health and sanitary conditions throughout the City. For the next 50 years, the City focused on collection and disposal of garbage.

Recycling and Composting

In the late 1980s, state and local efforts shifted to an emphasis on recycling and waste reduction, enacted into law with the passage of the Waste Not Washington Act in 1989. Footnote 8 Olympia initiated curbside recycling and yard debris collection in 1988.

A private yard waste composting facility in Thurston County began accepting food scraps in 2008. It was remodeled in 2012 to allow handling of larger quantities, while maintaining compliance for odor control and stormwater runoff. Organic waste delivered to the County transfer station is now sent to one of three composting facilities, depending on the type of material.

Solid Waste Planning

In accordance with the requirements of the Waste Not Washington Act, Thurston County prepared its first Solid Waste Plan in 1981, with revisions in 1993.

In 1991, Olympia prepared its own plan, focusing on improving the existing refuse collection system and expanding waste reduction and recycling programs within the City. The primary objective of the Plan was to minimize operating costs, while maximizing services.

In 2007, the City adopted its first Utility Master Plan, Moving Toward Zero Waste, Olympia’s Waste ReSources Plan, 2008-2013.

Toward Zero Waste

Figure 4-1 illustrates the general process of turning natural resources into products for consumption, recycling and disposal. Figure 4-2 shows a close up of the current waste management process in Thurston County, with the goal of steadily reducing the quantity of waste sent to the landfill. Materials move on their way from manufacturer to customer to reuse (like a thrift store), recycling plant and eventually to new products. What’s left over is disposed in a landfill. Details are in Chapters 5 and Chapter 6.

View Figure 4-1 Resource Use, Recovery and Disposal

View Figure 4-2 Waste Management in Thurston County

4.2 Organizational Relationships

This section describes how the Waste ReSources Utility fits within the local and regional waste management system and the Public Works Department.

The City of Olympia has a Council/Manager form of government, with an elected City Council making policy decisions, and an appointed City Manager who oversees several departments, including Public Works.

Public Works Department

The Public Works Department is organized into five Lines of Business, illustrated in Figure 4-3. This structure streamlines accountability and decision-making. Each line of business includes program and planning, as well as operations and maintenance, to create a cohesive unit for each type of work.

View Figure 4-3 Olympia Public Works Organization

Waste ReSources Utility

The Waste ReSources Utility is managed and funded as an enterprise fund, and therefore its financing is entirely self-supporting (see Chapter 11). Like other City utilities, Waste ReSources is responsible for its share of the City’s overhead expenses. These include a portion of City and Public Works administration, legal and administrative services, computer and telephone networks, fleet services, buildings, insurance, and billing and janitorial services.

The Waste ReSources Line of Business is comprised of two functional program areas:

1.    Collection — operational staff responsible for day-to-day collection of solid waste and customer service (see Chapter 5).

2.    Waste Prevention and Reduction — planning and program development staff responsible for strategic planning, policy formulation, and developing and maintaining education and outreach programs (see Chapter 6).

4.3 Customer Classes

Providing high-quality service to customers is a priority for Waste ReSources. The Utility provides garbage, recycling and yard waste collection services, generally within the incorporated City limits. The four major customer classes are listed below; each has a separate rate structure.

1.    Large-volume waste generators for whom it is cost-effective to use a large container such as a drop box or compactor, either occasionally and short-term or frequently and long-term (161 customers in 2013, resulting in 2,636 hauls).

2.    Single-family and smaller multi-family residents, who need frequent collection of relatively small volumes (12,915 customers in 2013).

3.    Businesses and larger multi-family properties that need frequent collection of small, moderate and large volumes (1,200 customers in 2013).

4.    Organics customers who generate regular, small and moderate volumes (7,800 customers in 2013).

Currently, private companies collect recyclables from businesses, independently of the City.

4.4 Legal and Policy Framework

This section describes the legal and policy framework within which Waste ReSources functions: federal, state and local laws and policies governing solid waste planning, handling and disposition, collection and transportation.

Olympia Municipal Code Title 13, Chapter 12 (OMC 13.12) gives the City’s Public Works Department exclusive authority over collection of all residential and commercial garbage and residential recyclables. Commercial recyclable and organic materials are collected in an open competitive environment.

The key laws governing solid waste planning and management are:

•    Federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA, 1976 and 1984)

•    Washington State Solid Waste Management Act (Chapter 70.95 RCW)

•    Thurston County Board of Health Rules

•    Washington State Utilities and Transportation Commission (RCW 35.21.120)

•    Special solid waste laws governing product stewardship, recycling and recovery

Solid Waste Planning

Washington’s primary solid waste management law is the Solid Waste Management Act (Chapter 70.95 RCW). It establishes the roles of local governments and the State in solid waste planning and management (RCW 70.95.020). The purpose of this part of the Act is “to establish a comprehensive statewide program for solid waste handling, and solid waste recovery and/or recycling which will prevent land, air, and water pollution and conserve the natural, economic, and energy resources of this state.”

Each county is required to prepare a coordinated, comprehensive solid waste management plan looking ahead 20 years. Plans must include these elements:

•    Inventory of current facilities and future facility needs.

•    Program for developing needed facilities.

•    Inventory and description of existing collection and operations systems, and needs for the future.

•    Comprehensive waste reduction and recycling program.

•    Cost assessment.

The Act also establishes waste management priorities, and requires that comprehensive plans provide programs to address the priorities (RCW 70.95.010(8)). They are, in order of priority:

1.    Waste reduction.

2.    Recycling, with source separation of recyclable materials as the preferred method.

3.    Energy recovery, landfill and incineration of separated wastes.

4.    Energy recovery, landfill and incineration of mixed municipal solid wastes.

Cities like Olympia have several options. They may choose to:

•    Prepare a separate comprehensive solid waste plan and manage their solid waste separately from the county. This requires a solid waste facility (i.e. landfill or transfer station) located within city jurisdiction.

•    Enter into an agreement with the county and participate in a joint city-county plan.

•    Authorize the county to prepare a plan for the city’s solid waste.

Olympia works with Thurston County under the second option to prepare revisions to the county-wide comprehensive plan that meet the requirements of RCW 70.95. The City is represented on the County’s Solid Waste Advisory Committee (SWAC), which includes an elected official from each jurisdiction, citizens, and waste and recycling industry representatives. Through the SWAC, Olympia is working to ensure that the Thurston County plan offers services and infrastructure that help optimize the City’s Zero Waste goals.

The City develops its own Zero Waste Plan, in order to provide a clear direction for its waste reduction, recycling and waste management policy and services.

Solid Waste Handling and Disposition

The two primary laws governing solid waste handling and disposition are the Federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) and Washington’s Solid Waste Management Act. The State’s solid waste handling standards are administered locally by the Thurston County Board of Health.

Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA)

The RCRA is the basic federal law governing solid waste management, including hazardous and non-hazardous waste. Enacted in 1976 and amended in 1984, it establishes a regulatory structure for managing solid and hazardous wastes. This structure includes “cradle-to-grave” requirements for hazardous waste from the point of generation to disposal, and less restrictive requirements for non-hazardous solid waste.

Subtitle C of the Act describes how to determine if a waste is hazardous, and specifies handling and disposal requirements for designated hazardous wastes. Household hazardous wastes (HHW) and small quantity generator wastes (SQGW) are not designated as hazardous wastes under RCRA.

Subtitle D of the Act addresses non-hazardous solid waste management. Under RCRA, state and local governments are identified as the primary planning, regulating and implementing entities for the management of non-hazardous solid waste. Subtitle D establishes minimum national criteria for all municipal solid waste landfills, including location restrictions; and requirements for operating and design, groundwater monitoring and corrective action, and closure and post-closure care.

State Solid Waste Management Act

This law requires Ecology to adopt rules establishing minimum functional standards for solid waste handling. These minimum functional standards must at least meet RCRA national requirements.

In 1985, Ecology adopted Minimum Functional Standards for Solid Waste Handling (Chapter 173-304 WAC) to regulate solid waste disposal and recycling. In response to new federal requirements enacted into law in 1991, mixed municipal solid waste landfill requirements have been rewritten under a separate rule in Chapter 173-351 WAC.

In addition, a new solid waste management rule, Solid Waste Handling Standards (Chapter 173-350 WAC), went into effect on February 10, 2003. This rule establishes standards for solid waste handling facilities other than municipal solid waste landfills. These include recycling and composting facilities, transfer stations and materials recycling facilities (MRFs).

Rules for hazardous (dangerous) wastes are covered in (Chapter 173-303 WAC).

Thurston County Board of Health Rules

Responsibility for enforcing the State’s Minimum Functional Standards (Chapter 173-304 WAC) has been further delegated to local health departments. Thurston County’s solid waste handling requirements are included in Article V - Rules and Regulations of the Thurston County Board of Health. The purpose of these regulations is to set standards for solid waste handling in Thurston County and to implement the County’s Comprehensive Solid Waste Management Plan. The Solid Waste Program of the Thurston County Public Health and Social Services Department implements the regulations.

Solid Waste Collection and Transportation

State law gives cities and towns the sole authority to provide solid waste collection service (RCW 35.21.120). Service may be offered directly by the city or by contract with private companies. This authority extends to all residential solid waste, including garbage, recyclables and organic materials, and to commercial garbage. However, it excludes authority over source-separated recyclables from commercial establishments.

Rules governing transportation of solid waste in Washington are addressed in RCW Chapter 81.77. Entities collecting and hauling solid waste are required to obtain a certificate of convenience or necessity from the Washington State Utilities and Transportation Commission (WUTC). However, the rules do not apply in two cases:

1.    Operation of any solid waste collection company under a contract of solid waste disposal with any city or town, nor to any city or town which itself undertakes the disposal of solid waste. (RCW 81.77.020)

2.    Collection and transportation of recyclables from industries and commercial establishments to processors. (RCW 81.77.010 (9))

In other words, RCW 81.77 does not currently apply to any part of Olympia’s solid waste collection system. The collection of commercial recyclables by private companies is exempt under (2) above, and the other services are provided by the City and are exempt under (1). (See Chapter 5 for details about services provided by the City, County and private companies.)

Special Solid Waste Laws — E-Cycle Washington

The Washington State Electronics Recycling Act (RCW 70.95N) was enacted in 2005 and went into effect January 2009. It establishes a system for recycling computer monitors, computers and TVs. The law requires manufacturers to establish and fund convenient collection and recycling programs in urban and rural areas in each county in Washington. A quasi-governmental organization, Washington Materials Management and Financing Authority (WMMFA) was established to manage financial resources and contract for services for collection, transportation, and recycling of covered electronic products. WMMFA reports to the Washington Department of Ecology.

Olympia Laws and Policies

The City of Olympia’s solid waste laws and policies are set forth in the Olympia Municipal Code and in Comprehensive Plan policies.

Municipal Code

Garbage collection and disposal is mandatory within the City of Olympia. Olympia Municipal Code Title 13, Chapter 12 (OMC 13.12) provides that the collection, removal and disposal of garbage and refuse within the City is universal and compulsory, and may be performed by the Public Works Department or other agency designated by the City. Regulations in OMC 13.12 include disposal requirements, collection frequency, container specifications, rates, and recycling incentives.

Ordinance 5141 (November 1990) instructed the City Manager to implement programs to maximize the reduction and recycling of City-generated waste and to procure and promote the use of recycled and recyclable products.

Comprehensive Plan

Olympia’s Comprehensive Plan (2014) states that: “We understand and value the role that ‘reuse, reduction and recycling’ plays in our effort to conserve energy and materials.” Its vision for the future includes “significant reduction of waste.” The Comprehensive Plan established three goals for solid waste management:

•    GU 12: Solid waste is managed as a resource to provide environmental, economic, and social benefits.

•    GU 13: Solid waste is managed in a responsible and cost-effective manner.

•    GU 14: Environmental impacts caused by solid waste management are minimal.


Over the years, City Council has passed a number of ordinances and resolutions to make its intentions clear:

•    Resolution M-1550 (March 2004) adopted a strategy to manage and reduce City government energy and fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.

•    Resolution M-1621 (December 2005) defined strategies and guidelines to reduce and/or eliminate the purchase and use of pesticides and persistent toxic chemicals by the City.

•    Resolution M-1641 (June 2006) directed the City to focus planning efforts on strategies towards achieving the vision of Zero Waste, ad to work with all City departments to identify and implement internal Zero Waste strategies (Appendix 1).

Table 4-1 Timeline of Key Dates in Thurston County Solid Waste History

1899 – 1935

•    The City of Olympia garbage dump is located in Downtown Olympia in the area now occupied by the Budd Inlet Wastewater Treatment Plant. Waste was frequently burned.


•    Olympia stops using the Downtown dump and uses a site on Ascension Avenue, on Olympia’s Westside, until it is closed and another site is opened at Cooper Point Road and Black Lake Boulevard.


•    City of Olympia Commissioners create a Garbage Fund and Garbage Department to collect trash from residents and businesses to help maintain public health.

Late 1940s – 1972

•    Thurston County operates an open pit dump at Hawks Prairie. To maintain sanitary conditions, waste was burned.


•    State law (RCW 35.21) gives cities express authority to control all garbage and residential recycling collection, either by contract or by municipal crews.


•    City of Olympia dump at Cooper Point is closed and the City begins using the Hawks Prairie dump.


•    The Thurston County dump is converted to a sanitary landfill and burning stopped. Landfill cells are lined with an impermeable material and waste is covered with a shallow layer of dirt to prevent leaching and keep conditions sanitary.

Early 1980s

•    A private processing center for recyclable materials is established near the Hawks Prairie landfill.


•    City begins collecting residential curbside recycling.


•    Olympia’s Yard Waste Drop-Off Site opens at the City Maintenance Center on Eastside Street.

City opens the Dirt Works Composting Demonstration Garden at Yauger Park.


•    City promotes recycling awareness, education and outreach at schools and public events.


•    City Council adopts Ordinance 5141, encouraging waste prevention and recycling by City government (Waste Reduction/Recycling/Procurement Ordinance).


•    City Council adopts Olympia’s Solid Waste and Recycling Plan, with emphasis on efficiency improvements, continued recycling and waste reduction.


•    Thurston County Solid Waste opens Recycle Drop-off Center, Compost Center, Closed Loop Park and HazoHouse (a household hazardous waste facility) at Hawks Prairie.

•    County locates eight recyclables drop-off sites throughout the county.


•    City begins residential curbside yard waste collection.

•    City begins multi-family recycle collection.


•    City implements all-cart, semi-automated residential collection, along with alternating every-other-week pick-up for garbage and recycling, using the same equipment and staff.

City changes from three-stream recycling (paper, cans and glass) to two-stream recycling (mixed papers and mixed containers – cans, plastic and glass).


•    County landfill at Hawks Prairie is converted to a transfer station (Thurston County Waste and Recovery Center, WARC). It begins shipping waste by rail to Roosevelt Regional Landfill in Klickitat County in eastern Washington.


•    City begins fully automated residential collection.

City changes to single-stream recycling. Recyclables taken to Pacific Disposal (near the WARC) and shipped to Clackamas, Oregon, for sorting and distribution.


•    City of Olympia changes commercial garbage collection from rear-load to front-load trucks.


•    City of Olympia adopts its Zero Waste Resolution, which establishes a new direction for the Solid Waste Utility and City.


•    City adopts its first Solid Waste Utility Master Plan, Moving Toward Zero Waste: Olympia’s Waste ReSources Plan. The Plan establishes new goals, objectives and actions to achieve a vision of Zero Waste.


•    City enhances its curbside yard waste program by adding food scraps and food-soiled paper.


•    City launches commercial organics (food scrap) collection program, third grade education program and Zero Waste events.


•    City begins implementing one-side road collection in residential areas.

•    City bans single-use plastic carry-out bags and places a minimum $0.05 fee on paper bags.