How circular is our local economy?

Many experts over the past months have stated that the world will look different after COVID. How different will it be? If we consume again at the same pre-pandemic level, could we change the current take-make-waste model into an economy where consumed products are returned to the manufacturing or biological process they were a part of, while creating the much needed jobs along the way?

This article—the first in a series—provides an overview of our current state of recycling in the Tri-Cities.

Some in the Tri recycle close to 90% of their waste. But a quick poll online shows that the majority of residents only recycle about 50%. Kennewick and Richland offer curbside recycling and drop-off locations. Richland charges an additional $6.60 a month for the convenience of curbside, 'for residents who are passionate about recycling'. Their sign-up rate for this service is around 35%. Pasco has no curbside service, but it has 14+ recycle drop-off locations.

A quick look at these containers shows a lot of contamination. According to Franklin County’s website, “it has been proven that communities using drop-box recycling achieve a per ­household recycling rate comparable to more costly curbside recycling.” However, the 2017 numbers in Franklin County show that their recycle rates are far below that of Benton County.**

Despite the recycling options we have, our garbage rates (the percentage of waste going to landfills) are still going up.

The bottom line is not in favor of recycling. The costs to recycle are higher than dumping it as waste in landfills for a city like Richland. Contamination due to the commingled collection leads to higher costs of separating the single stream at recovery facilities, or it adds considerable costs to the paper pulping process.
Overall, the cleaner the material that is collected, the higher the value. So to make recycling more effective, we may have to pay as much attention to packaging and the goods we dispose of as we do when we are standing at the retail shelf to buy them. Stay tuned for more details!


Most cardboard is delivered to paper plants, is cleaned (from tape and labels) and enters the pulping process to turn into another paper product again.
Curbside pick up: (K +R)***
• # of drop off locations: 23
Value: $0.50-$1.00 / lb

Mixed paper

Mixed paper including newspa­pers is sent to paper plants for pulping as well. However a large portion may be landfilled due to contamination (food residue etc.).
Curbside pick up: (K + R)
# of drop off locations: 23
Value: $0.21 / lb


The recycled aluminum market has been going downward lately. Cans are transported to can plants where they can turn into aluminum cans again.
Curbside pick up: (K + R)
• # of drop off locations: 24
Value: $0.15-0.24 / lb

Steel / tin

Steel is used in a larger variety of products when recycled. Two-thirds of all new steel manufactured comes from recycled steel.
• Curbside pick up: (K + R)
• # of drop off locations: 25
Value: $0.04 / lb or $83 / ton

Plastic bottles

After being separated at the recovery facilities, plastics are shipped to Asia. Malaysia was the largest overseas destination for U.S. scrap plastic in January.
• Curbside pick up: (K + R)
• # of drop off locations: 23
Value: $0.02-$0.04 / lb

Plastic film

Plastic bags are considered 'film' plastic. Even though they are collected in a few areas, there doesn’t currently seem to be a use for them. And they most likely end up in landfill.
• Curbside pick up: NONE
• # of drop off locations: 2
Value: Negative


Some glass that is collected is sent to plants in western WA to be recycled to new bottles. Some glass is used as rock cover on landfills.
• Curbside pick up: (K)
• # of drop off locations: 21
Value: -$50/mt - $100/mt


Used motor oil is recycled by filtering it, cleaning it then selling it as oil again. Oil needs to be disposed of properly, or it will contaminate waterways.
• Curbside pick up: (K)
• # of drop off locations: 3
Value: $0.40/gallon

Mobile phones

Dedicated drop off locations offer cash back—like the eATM at WalMart. Mobile phones are made with scarce resources, so they should be recycled.
• Curbside pick up: NONE
• # of drop off locations: 4
Value: up to $40


Richland has curbside collection for yard waste. It is turned into compost. Kitchen scraps are not included so that ends up in the landfills.
• Curbside pick up: (R)
• # of drop off locations: NONE
Value: n.a.


Hardware stores that sold CFL added a fee to it and had the obligation to take them back due to the mercury content. Very few locations are currently left.****
• Curbside pick up: NONE
• # of drop off locations: 4
Value: Negative


WA collects a fee during purchase and recycles comput­ers, monitors and TVs for free. Hazardous materials are removed before being landfilled.
• Curbside pick up: NONE
• # of drop off locations: 3
Value: Negative

The information above applies to the Tri-Cities area; the data is an estimate and can contain errors due to fluctuations in the market or limited information. If you have comments or additions, please send them to
Sources: *1-800-Recycle, **Department of Ecology WA, ***K = Kennewick R=Richland, ****, Google

Jenni H. recently moved to the Tri from Atlanta, GA., where she was known as the “Trash Lady.”

Photo by Марьян Блан | @marjanblan on Unsplash