Chapter 6 – Waste Prevention and Program Planning

The Utility’s Waste Prevention and Program Planning staff focuses on reducing overall waste and increasing reuse, recycling and composting (Goals 1 and 2), primarily through outreach and education. Staff members are responsible for developing and evaluating education and outreach programs, assisting the Collection Operations program, and Utility planning.

The Waste Prevention Program includes three full-time equivalent (FTE) staff: two senior program specialists and one program specialist. Responsibilities are divided so that each staff member focuses on specific program development and outreach activities for:

•    Residential single- and multi-family households.

•    Business, schools and City government.

•    Public events and special programs.

This chapter reviews accomplishments since 2008 and describes Olympia’s waste reduction and recycling education an outreach activities, as well as efforts by Thurston County staff.

6.1 Accomplishments Since 2008

The focus of the 2008 Plan was on developing new programs with an emphasis on education and encouragement. In addition, staff improved the Utility’s ability to collect and analyze data to measure program effectiveness. For a more complete list of accomplishments, see Chapter 7, Section 7.1.

Outreach and Education Programs

New outreach and education efforts resulted in:

•    Food waste collection from residential and commercial customers, 16 elementary schools, and some City buildings.

•    Nearly doubling the recycling rate in the multi-family sector.

•    A dedicated business technical assistance program.

•    A waste reduction and recycling education program for all third graders in the Olympia School District.

•    Expanded recycling collection at public and private events.

Data System Improvements

A challenge identified in the 2008 plan was a lack of key data that would help focus services and apply the principles of adaptive management, which require routine review of effectiveness and course correction, as needed.

To address this problem, staff developed a system to calculate waste quantities by material for each customer type. This allows Waste ReSources to determine the recycling/diversion rate for multi-family and single-family customers separately, as well as for businesses whose organic waste is collected by the Utility (see Chapter 3, Table 3-1 and Table 3-2).

Some critical data remain difficult or impossible to measure, particularly data about commercial recycling. Staff can only estimate how many businesses, State agencies and other non-residential customers are recycling, since their recyclables are collected by private haulers and data is not reported to the City. Estimates of commercial recyclables collected by private haulers range from 16 (known quantity) to 31 to 51 percent (estimates using State data).

Data on quantities of waste self-hauled to the WARC by Olympia residents and businesses is not available, nor is waste collected by private haulers. Better reporting of this information would help with planning, public education and technical assistance programs, and evaluation of results.

These data gaps make it impossible to assess progress in total waste generated and total waste recycled. (See Chapter 3 for highlights of data that is available.)

6.2 Residential Education and Outreach

Increasing diversion of recyclable and compostable materials is a major focus of the Prevention and Program Planning staff.

Single-Family Residential

The single-family residential program is well established and covers all three waste streams: garbage, recyclable and organic materials. Education and outreach focuses mostly on dissemination of information through an annual collection calendar, Utility bill inserts like the Five Things brochure, website, cart tags and response to customer inquiries. Information sessions are offered to neighborhood groups, but are not well promoted or well attended.

In July 2008, curbside yard waste evolved into curbside organics with the addition of food scraps and food-soiled paper. Waste ReSources promoted the program by delivering 2-gallon kitchen countertop buckets and a comprehensive brochure to all yard waste customers. Other promotions included distributing buckets to an additional 1,000 customers, brochures, Utility bill inserts, and web postings. From a baseline of 5,700 yard waste customers in 2007, the program grew to 2,000 organics customers in 2010 and 7,600 in 2013.

In 2009, the Utility contracted with Elway Research to conduct a telephone survey to help understand the barriers to subscribing to organics collection. Perceptions of odor, cost, convenience and lack of understanding were factors suggesting why customers either didn’t sign up for food waste collection, or didn’t include all food scraps in their cart.

In 2011, a small-scale test of lid lifts was conducted to better understand how many customers might be putting non-compostable material in their organics carts. Staff pulled a random sample of 100 customers and examined the contents of their carts. This proved to be a useful way to check for contamination and response was positive. In 2012, the Utility Advisory Committee recommended approving a lid lift program. This strategy was not formalized into an official program, but is included as a strategy in the 2015 Plan.

Multi-Family Residential

A major focal point of the 2008 Plan was to better understand and improve the recycling rate in the multi-family sector. While the recycling rate has increased from 8 percent in 2005 to 15 percent in 2013, several challenges remain. These include limited space for containers, resident and manager turnover, insufficient capacity for recycling, and difficulty connecting with residents.

The biggest improvement came from dedicating a collection route to multi-family customers, maximizing the number of recycle containers at each site, and providing weekly collection as much as possible.

Regular site visits by staff, resident information sessions, newsletters, web presence, and signage have given mixed results. The 147 complexes served by the Utility are different in terms of:

•    Number of dwellings.

•    Type of dwelling: rental apartments, owned condos and multiplexes with individual or centralized garbage and recycle containers.

•    Location and availability of space for garbage and recycle containers.

•    Demographic diversity of renters, for example retired people, families with children, economically well-off or economically challenged.

•    On-site or absentee management.

Waste ReSources works with each customer to maximize recycling and diversion. Staff participates in the site plan review process to ensure adequate space for garbage, recycling and organics containers. The City’s Engineering Development and Design Standards (EDDS) were updated in 2012 and again in 2014 to reflect new standards for enclosures; now all new projects are built to accommodate recycling and diversion. A new screening code was adopted in 2014, to allow for easier and less restrictive siting of waste containers.

Buildings with both residential and commercial tenants are called mixed-use buildings. Waste ReSources collects recyclable materials from residential units in mixed-use buildings, as part of the multi-family program.

6.3 Businesses, Schools and City Government

Waste ReSources staff works with individual businesses, schools and City departments to encourage waste reduction and increase collection of recyclable and compostable materials.


The City began offering business technical assistance and free waste assessments in 2008, and since then has completed over 200 assessments. For a waste assessment, a staff member walks through the business with owners and managers to review their waste disposal practices, suggesting ways to save money on disposal by reducing waste and recycling and composting more. Recommendations can include beginning organics or recycling collection, downsizing their garbage service and changing a purchasing or disposal practice. Waste assessments are promoted through cold calls, brochures, website, Utility bill inserts, direct mail, and a street banner. Waste assessments have resulted in more than 125 commercial organics customers.


The Waste Prevention Program launched a third grade education program in 2007/2008. The OLYWAste Program offers hands-on education, both in the classroom and through field trips to the Dirt Works Demonstration Garden. The classroom portion introduces students to the basic concepts of “reduce, reuse and recycle” through a combination of presentations, crafts and games. The one-hour classroom presentation, “RRR U Ready?” meets the State’s Essential Academic Learning Requirements. The field trip gives students hands-on experience with worm bin composting and recycled art. OLYWAste has grown to include all of Olympia’s third grade classrooms.

Along with classroom education, Waste ReSources has helped schools reduce waste by setting up curbside organics collection and facilitating the use of milk dispensers to eliminate disposable milk containers. The school organics collection program now includes 13 public and 3 private schools.

City Government: Walking Its Talk

Prior to the 2008 Plan, the City’s internal waste reduction and recycling practices varied among City departments. The level of recycling depended largely on the quantity of material generated, whether a building was owned or leased, and the level of interest within each department. One of first objectives achieved under the 2008 Plan was to improve the City’s internal programs.

The main focus of the internal program has been on material diversion. Council passed a number of ordinances and resolutions to make its intentions clear (see Chapter 4, Section 4.4).

These efforts were recognized in 2014, when the City received the Public Agency Recycler of the Year Award from the Washington State Recycling Association (WSRA) (Figure 6-1).

Figure 6-1 City of Olympia Receives Recycling Award

Olympia City government accomplishments are highlighted below.

•    The Waste ReSources Utility is collecting its own commingled recyclables and cardboard.

•    The Utility has a unified approach to collection and education, both inside and outside of City buildings.

•    All City employees are given a blue desk-side recycle bin with a mini-bin for garbage.

•    Common areas such as lunch rooms, meeting rooms, copy centers, and conference rooms have centralized collection points for bottles, cans and paper.

•    Organics collection is offered at City buildings for employee use.

•    A drop box at the City’s Maintenance Center gives Waste ReSources crews a place to deposit scrap metal for recycling.

•    Battery recycling is encouraged through various techno-trash options.

6.4 Special Programs and Public Events

Throughout the year, the City offers additional opportunities for recycling and waste reduction. Some are annual, and others are short-term grant-funded projects and programs.

Special Programs

•    Bag ban. In October 2013, the City of Olympia adopted a ban on single-use disposable shopping bags, effective July 1, 2014. The ban places a $0.05 fee on paper bags, and is projected to eliminate an estimated 90 million plastic bags in the City. The ban was also adopted by the cities of Tumwater and Lacey and by Thurston County for unincorporated areas.

•    Saturday Drop-off Site. Olympians can bring yard debris, scrap metal and traditional recyclables to the City’s Maintenance Center on Eastside Street on Saturdays from March to mid-November. There is a fee for yard debris, but scrap metal and recyclables are free.

•    Backyard Composting. Olympia has a history of supporting Thurston County’s Washington State University Master Gardener program, which offers free composing workshops and compost bins for sale. Each year, Olympia hosts one of three composting and gardening demonstration gardens in the County. Numerous composting and gardening workshops and the annual fund raiser (May Plant Sale) are held at the Dirt Works Demonstration Garden at Yauger Park.

•    Grasscycling Program. Grass clippings add significantly to the quantities of organic material collected between March and July. Aided by a Coordinated Prevention Grant from the Washington Department of Ecology, staff developed an outreach program to encourage residents to grasscycle by mulch mowing, using grass clippings as mulch or composting them in their backyard. The program involved two separate campaigns, one with in-person workshops and the other with an online virtual format. It offered $150 rebates for the purchase of mulching mowers and $25 rebates for backyard compost bins, as well as yard signs. The program won top honors from the City, County, Communication and Marketing Association (3CMA) in the Go Green category and third place for Digital Interactive Newsletters. Residents raved about the online format. While the rebates were tied to grant funding and no longer available, residents can still take the online workshop. Waste ReSources could easily promote this program again to encourage and offer incentives for natural lawn care.

•    Spring Recycle Days and Neighborhood Chipping – previously offered by City were cancelled, due to declining participation and rising cost. Spring Recycle Days provided Olympia residents with once a year curbside collection of metals, porcelain and tires for free. Neighborhood chipping consisted of the City hiring a contractor to provide chipping of woody debris to four or more households. The City determined that staff time and cost were better spent working on new and emerging waste reduction efforts.


•    Event Recycling. Waste ReSources collects garbage, recyclable and organic materials at about 26 annual events and festivals. The four major events are the Wooden Boat Festival, Lakefair, Harbor Days and Sand in the City. The City requires festival and event organizers to obtain a permit. Organizers of free permitted public events are encouraged to borrow recycling containers from Waste ReSources to collect plastic bottles, aluminum cans and cardboard. If organizers recycle, the City charges only the garbage disposal cost and waives any hauling fees. Event organizers are encouraged to participate in organics collection for food service vendors and the public. For large events, Waste ReSources uses a special Zero Waste trailer (Figure 6-2).

View Figure 6-2 Zero Waste Trailer for Public Events

•    Lakefair Parade. Each year the City enters the Capital Lakefair Parade with one of its residential recycle trucks and a recycle cart drill team. Staff and enthusiastic volunteers use the opportunity to promote waste reduction and recycling by collecting bottles and cans along the route. In 2013, the City was awarded the judges’ special recognition award.

•    Zero Waste Events. The City lends out collection bins, signage and bags to help organizers of public and private events recycle and compost. Materials are free for events such as neighborhood block parties, weddings and family gatherings. Staff provides assistance and training to help organizers be as waste-free as possible. Waste ReSources encourages all City internal events to aim for Zero Waste.

6.5 Thurston County Outreach and Education

Thurston County Solid Waste and Environmental Health offers education and outreach programs for all County residents, focusing on areas outside of Olympia. City and County staff coordinate as much as possible to avoid duplication of efforts. Current and past programs are listed below.

Residential Recycling

•    Multi-family recycling education and outreach.

•    Single-family residential recycling and organics outreach.


•    Technical assistance for businesses outside Olympia.


•    Elementary and middle school education.

•    Education, outreach and encouragement for school organics collection outside Olympia.


•    Educational art projects.

•    Presentations to community groups and organizations about recycling and waste reduction.

•    Community outreach.

Public Information

•    Online “Where do I take my...?” database for numerous hard to recycle materials.

•    WasteLessFood campaign to reduce the amount of food in the garbage.

•    “Talkin’ Trash” newsletter mailed to all Thurston County households twice yearly.

•    Recycling and waste reduction insert in Waste Connections/LeMay garbage and recycling bills.

Special Programs and Events

•    Two compost demonstration projects, in cooperation with Washington State University Extension: the Closed Loop Park at the WARC and Gallacci Garden at the Olympia Farmers’ Market.

•    Event recycle cart loaners.

Hazardous Waste

•    Hazardous waste education and collection at HazoHouse at the WARC.

•    Pharmaceutical drop-off program.