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Waste Not

By Todd Burley

Today is Global Recycling Day, and Seattle Parks and Recreation (SPR) is looking at how we can improve our waste diversion in our parks.  

In 2021 we partnered with Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) to conduct a waste audit at four athletic fields – Magnuson Park, Woodland Park, Delridge Park, and Genesee Park – to understand what waste went into which bins. We learned that contamination of recycling with garbage is a big problem, and our current bins do not do a great job of directing people to place their trash in the correct receptacle. Following this audit, we have purchased new recycling bins and designed decals to affix to waste and recycling bins; these will be placed in those fields this spring. A final audit will be conducted to determine the effectiveness of this strategy. 

A garbage can at an athletic field with recyclables in it.
A garbage can at an athletic field with recyclables in it

In addition to the waste audits, SPR is also working with SPU to install new bins, including compost bins, at many of our downtown parks that host food trucks regularly. The intent is to pilot a new style of bins – garbage, recycling, and compost – that will be collocated in these parks and provide clear opportunities for the public to direct their waste to the proper receptacle. These rodent-proof bins are similar to the new ones used by SPU for its public space program and will help create a consistent system for people to use across the city.

Seattle Public Utilities garbage and recycle cans at Alki Beach Park
Seattle Public Utilities garbage and recycle cans at Alki Beach Park

We have learned from cities around the country that this is a persistent challenge, yet we are committed to seeking a solution that works for Seattle. Our facilities already have standardized tri-bin systems and signage, but outdoor public spaces come with a host of other issues. Some of the questions we are asking are:

  • What bins work best for the public and our staff?  
  • What bins are most effective at waste diversion?  
  • What labels are the most effective?  
  • How many bins are needed and where?  
  • Can we effectively collect food waste in our parks? 

These pilot projects and inquiries are a part of the creation of a comprehensive waste management plan we are beginning this year. We’ll be making a GIS map of all our bins, updating our bin standards, and engaging with staff to see what works best for them. We’d also like to hear from you! Have you seen good examples of recycling in other public spaces? What would help you ensure waste gets to its proper destination? What would you like to see in our parks? Send your ideas to our Sustainability Advisor at