Snohomish County approves $2M contract to clear 3,500 tons of backlogged garbage

Snohomish County Public Works is asking people to pause taking out their trash for the next week or two.

Crews are working overtime to clear a backlog of garbage at its transfer facilities. The county approved a $2 million emergency contract with removal company Waste Management to help clear the garbage.

50% of the county’s garbage haul goes to the Airport Recycle and Transfer Station (ARTS) in Everett. The facility is currently overflowing with 3,500 tons of waste.

"Simply put, there’s more garbage coming in the door than we can get out the door," said David Schonhard, solid waste director for Snohomish County Public Works.

Schonhard said the county’s transfer stations are not seeing a higher volume in garbage, but rather, a decrease in available containers to put the garbage in and lack of rail service to send it by train to a landfill in eastern Washington. 

"Our service vendor normally gives us enough containers that we can process it in real-time and get it to the landfill. And when we see a lack of containers, it starts to build up because we don’t have enough garbage cans to put it in. So, we stack it," said Schonhard. "We don’t have a local landfill to take this to. So, we’re really dependent on that rail network to work. And when it slows down, even a little bit, it has a huge ripple effect on our system."

At the ARTS facility, there is enough trash to pack 150 containers, when normally crews at the facility would fill up to 40 containers per day. 

"Usually, we try to always have as clean a deck as we can, so that when we close the facility at the end of the day, there’s nothing left that would cause a fire or do anything damaging to the facility. And it makes it better for the next day’s business. We stay with a clean slate and do it again," said Schonhard. "It’s really unprecedented. We’ve had hiccups in the system before, but this is by large the biggest pile of garbage we’ve had inside this facility."

Kelly Snyder, director of Snohomish County Public Works, said the trash backlog goes beyond the Everett location.

"Not just for Snohomish County, but Island County, Skagit County, Whatcom County, up into British Columbia. So, this is a regional issue," said Snyder.

"We’re all using the rail service to use a regional landfill in Eastern Washington. And so when that piece of the link breaks, we’re all looking for solutions," said Schonhard.

Public Works crews trying digging their way out is practically impossible, since the shipping and container shortage is happening around the world, and the rail system is limited across the region. County government approved a $2 million emergency contract with removal company Waste Management to help get it out.

"They will help us come and help clean the decks. They have some additional capacity with containers. We’ll hopefully be able to clear this out in a couple of weeks and sort of stabilize the system a little bit," said Snyder.

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Snyder explained Waste Management runs on a different rail system and has its own landfill in eastern Oregon where a lot of the county’s backlogged trash will go. 

"We need to make sure that these are not health and safety issues and environmental issues. So, the quicker we can resolve that, the better the whole environment will be," said Synder.

In the meantime, the ARTS facility is under a 24/7 fire watch until the tower of trash is cleared.

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"To be honest, when I do come in and see a pile like this I’m terrified. It’s very dangerous, things fall off. We have the issue of the piles get warm—as garbage sits, it decomposes, generates heat and actually becomes a fire hazard. And you can imagine something like this catches fire, the damage it can do to a facility," said Schonhard.