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New Washington County Tool Answers Waste Disposal Questions

The tool, called Waste Wise, is an online database that allows residents to search items and quickly determine how and where to donate, recycle or dispose of them. It can be accessed on the county's website.

(TNS) — It's about to get a lot easier to dispose of waste in Whatcom, with the county Solid Waste Management Program unveiling a new digital tool on Friday, April 22.

The tool, called Waste Wise, is an online database that allows residents to search items and quickly determine how and where to donate, recycle or dispose of them. It can be accessed on the county's website at

It's a centralized resource that Whatcom community members haven't previously had: The county's solid waste system is privatized, with separate companies handling garbage, recycling and compost. That can make it difficult for residents to know where to find information and potentially lead to conflicting instructions from different sources, said Jennifer Hayden, the environmental health supervisor at Whatcom's Health Department.

Can a straw be tossed in the recycling bin? Should a "biodegradable" plastic bag go in with compost materials? (The answer is no to both.)

"Honestly, I'm still confused, and if I'm confused, everyone is confused," Hayden said. "I really wanted to make it easy for people to know exactly what to do, to know the options."

To date, most waste education in the community has been contracted out to community partners, such as WSU Extension, Sustainable Connections and RE Sources, Hayden said. Now, she wants the county to take a larger role in outreach.

"This tool felt like a really easy way to start filling in that gap," Hayden said.

The tool was developed by a technology company ReCollect — its original name for the tool is Waste Wizard, but the Whatcom version was rebranded as Waste Wise. The county is paying $3,600 for a yearlong subscription to the online tool, which includes tech support and allows staff to track which items people are searching for most. The tool can be shared and hosted on other organizations' websites.

It's not the first time a Washington jurisdiction has used a version of Waste Wizard: Clark County in southwestern Washington also worked with ReCollect and has a similar searchable database customized to its jurisdiction.

Disposing items correctly isn't just about feeling good about your personal choices, Hayden said. When recycling and compost is contaminated with materials that don't belong in those systems, it disrupts companies' processes, damages equipment and produces a less valuable, lower-quality product.

"The most common questions that we receive are centered around recyclability and the answer can change quickly depending on final markets and demand," said Kristen Hancock, materials manager for Mount Vernon-based Lautenbach Recycling, in an email to The Bellingham Herald. Hancock said that Waste Wise has the potential to be a "great resource."

Hayden, with the county, also referenced Green Earth Technology, a Lynden-based compost company.

"My goal for that operation is to do everything in my power to make sure they are producing the highest quality product they can, so that people like it and buy it, and we can keep this loop from food and yard waste to compost local," Hayden said.

Much of the compost sold by Green Earth Technology is spread on Whatcom land, meaning the nutrients in it nourish local soils, Hayden said.

"It's just like shopping local," Hayden said. "The more we can invest in our own community, the better off we will be."

Most people in Whatcom are well-intended when it comes to disposing of items responsibly, but if they aren't educated about the issue, mistakes can happen. For example, Whatcom has a strong network of second-hand, donation-based organizations, but there's "a lot of misunderstanding about what those places actually want to receive," Hayden said.

" Goodwill gets a lot of household hazardous waste that they shouldn't be receiving," Hayden said. "That should be going to our household hazardous waste facility."

Hazardous waste includes oil-based and latex paints, lawn chemicals, automotive products and cleaners.

County staff have been working on the tool since December, manually entering data and collaborating with local companies to ensure information is accurate. There are currently about 300 items in the Waste Wise database, but Hayden hopes to see that number grow.

ReCollect offers an app that residents can download onto their phones, but that feature would cost the county more. Hayden wants to see if residents find the tool useful before further investing.

"I definitely want it to be ever-evolving," Hayden said. "If people have a question about something, they can contact us and we can add that really easily."

© 2022 The Bellingham Herald (Bellingham, Wash.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.