Counties are the local government agencies responsible for managing solid waste systems and services for Washington State residents. Counties manage recycling programs, landfills, transfer stations, trash collection, composting, and moderate and hazardous risk waste programs. Local health jurisdictions also enforce cleanups of unlawful and hazardous waste sites, like tire dumps and illegal junkyards.
Funding for these programs comes from a variety of places, including local taxes and fees.
The state also provides funding through a program called Local Solid Waste Financial Assistance (LSWFA). This program, authorized by the Model Toxics Control Act (MTCA), receives its funding from the Hazardous Substances Tax (HST). Most of the funding received from the HST is the result of a volume-based tax on barrels of oil.
Counties utilize funding from the state to implement solid waste management programs for residents. In the past, the funding received was as much as $28.6 million. Unfortunately, that funding has been cut by over 62% since 2013. In the last two biennial budgets, only $10 million has been provided for the LSWFA program.
These cuts have forced local county programs to make drastic choices in order to reduce expenses and pay for services. Some counties have raised fees by as much as 21%. Some have laid off staff. Others have cut back on recycling and hazardous waste management.
Unfortunately, when disposal fees get too high or when services aren’t available, it causes environmental harm. When people can’t afford the cost of disposal, they often dump items like old appliances, mattresses, and trash on other public or private lands. When there’s no longer a place to recycle, those items end up in the landfill. And when toxic chemicals need a place to go, and there isn’t a safe handling option, they are often poured on the ground, down the drain, or into stormwater systems and usually end up in surface and groundwater.
Of course, the cost of cleaning up after illegal dumping falls on local county programs. Those costs are always far more expensive than they would otherwise be if disposal rates were reasonable and basic services could be maintained.
Last year, the legislature passed ESSB 5993, known as the MTCA Reform Act. Among other things, the MTCA Reform Act increased the HST, which has led to a significant increase in revenue that is available for MTCA-related programs. That includes LSWFA, the program that provides funding for local government solid waste.
During recent work sessions in House Appropriations and Senate Ways and Means, it was reported that the MTCA Operating Account, the account under which LSWFA is authorized, has $41.1 million available. We believe some of those available funds should go to LSWFA as part of the supplemental State Operating Budget this year.
Members of the Washington Association of County Solid Waste Managers were in Olympia last week handing out information and speaking to budget writers and committee members about the work they do and the funding that is needed. They asked members to support additional funding for their programs.
Our communities are growing. Proper recycling and proper handling of solid waste and hazardous materials are fundamental to maintaining a healthy environment. Now is the time to restore state support for local solid waste management programs.