Recycling firms face $1.8 million in fines

EVERETT — Snohomish County has slapped two local recycling companies with $1.8 million in fines after investigators alleged they violated laws about hauling trash across county lines hundreds of times.

Maltby Container and Recycling, which has been fined by the county twice before, faces potential penalties of up to $1 million. United Recycling, of Snohomish, faces potential penalties of up to $800,000.

The case revolves around regulations dictating that all trash created in Snohomish County must pass through the county solid waste system. The county says that’s necessary to pay for garbage infrastructure and to keep disposal rates from rising.

County Executive Aaron Reardon announced the fines Tuesday in a press release, declaring, “When violators skirt those laws, it negatively impacts the fees our law-abiding customers pay.”

Some businesses on the receiving end say the county’s interpretations of the rules makes it impossible for small-scale recyclers to make a living. Plus, they maintain, it means more usable materials get sent to the dump.

“The state seems to help pass laws to promote recycling,” said United Recycling president Dan McAuliffe. “Meanwhile, the county is passing laws to the contrary to pad their pockets. We are deeply saddened (about) the county’s approach to the recycling industry.”

Many jurisdictions have “flow control” ordinances on the books, giving them authority over where locally generated trash winds up. The rules are supposed to help local governments recoup infrastructure investments, including paying off millions of dollars in bonds used to build transfer stations, pay for recycling programs, monitor closed landfills and dispose of household hazardous waste.

Snohomish County is among the most rigorous local governments when it comes to enforcing those rules. Though they’ve been on the books since the 1980s, the county stepped up enforcement during the past couple of years by detailing undercover deputies to tail garbage trucks driving to landfills hours away. In the past, two deputies have been assigned to the problem full time.

The current case is based partly on search warrants, according to the press release.

Based on a warrant served at a Yakima County landfill, the county alleges that Maltby Container transported 342 tractor-trailers worth of garbage outside of Snohomish County between January 2011 and July 2012. Based on another search at a Cowlitz County landfill, the county accuses United Recycling of transporting 279 tractor-trailer loads of trash outside of Snohomish County between June 2011 and June 2012.

County leaders made code amendments in 2011 and 2012 to lower the fees recycling companies have to pay.

The price difference between dumping trash locally and farther away can be huge. Tipping fees at Snohomish County transfer stations are $105 per ton. Some landfills elsewhere in the state charge less than a third of that. For a truck toting 25 to 30 tons of garbage, the savings could approach $2,000 per load.

The conflict over waste leaving Snohomish County has largely involved recycling companies and how they dispose of leftover materials they’re unable to reprocess. Some of the companies have complained that the county’s rules threaten to put them out of business, meaning a loss of jobs and valuable recycling services.

Rules designed to stop new garbage haulers from cropping up are instead being used against recyclers, said Maltby Container President Tony McAuliffe, whose brother runs United Recycling. The brothers said their companies are separate.

“Now they’ve turned this thing around where they call wood and plastic and cardboard garbage,” he said. “Now they want all of it and they put it all in a landfill.”

The county uses garbage revenues solely for supporting the solid waste system. Whether that’s a good or bad thing depends on whom you ask.

“None of the solid waste revenue stream goes back into roads, sidewalks, infrastructure improvements,” Tony McAuliffe said. “It’s just for funding solid waste and staffing behind it.”

To county solid waste director Matt Zybas, on the other hand, “Maintaining flow control over solid waste keeps a level playing field for everyone — from residents to local businesses.”

Snohomish County’s Solid Waste Division has an annual budget of about $48 million and employs about 120 employees.

Snohomish County has a $20 million annual contract to send its trash by train to a landfill in Klickitat County. The contract, due to open up to competing bids within the next few years, is held by Allied Waste, part of Phoenix-based Republic Services.

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465; nhaglund@heraldnet.com.

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