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For those with disabilities, recycling is harder in Snohomish County

The Daily Herald - 6/11/2024

EVERETT — Composed of five buildings behind the Everett Mall, Tessera Apartments only has one recycling dumpster, tucked in the back right corner of the complex.

On Friday morning, resident Jeanette Merkey placed a reusable bag filled with recyclables on the seat of her walker, with a full garbage bag on top of that. She rolled her walker outside her apartment, down the sidewalk in front of the other buildings and to the back where the green-and-blue WM, or Waste Management, dumpsters sit.

Merkey, who has an intellectual disability, has caretakers who visit her Monday through Friday, and she often seeks their help to take out her recycling and trash. On this particular morning, a couple hours before her caregiver would arrive, she did it on her own.

Once she reached the recycling dumpster, Merkey used one hand to hold up the lid while using her other hand to empty her bag of recyclables.

"That's hard for me, as a resident," she said.

Many Snohomish County locals with disabilities find bringing their waste outside difficult without help. Residents feel waste collection services can make recycling more accessible by placing multiple dumpsters or bins around the premises at multifamily housing, enlarging bin labels and offering assistance to customers.

Merkey is one of the Snohomish County advocates who gather once a month for a People First meeting at the Evergreen Branch of the Everett Public Library. As the name suggests, the statewide organization's mission is to recognize members as people first — their disabilities second.

At the Snohomish County chapter's meeting last month, members discussed barriers they face with recycling.

"It's hard for me to be able to carry something — to even get it into a recycling bin," said Leigh Spruce, who lives in an apartment complex in Mill Creek. "I also am short in stature, and sometimes reaching up and getting something into a recycling bin is difficult."

Spruce uses forearm crutches and sometimes a motorized scooter. To take out her recycling, she puts all of her items in a box or bag, traveling downstairs and through a parking garage to the complex's single recycling bin. The process often requires multiple trips, she said.

"There's a room with a trash chute that I just go and take my garbage," Spruce said. "I wish that they had something for recycling, where we just pressed a button and a flat came out that you could just put your recycling in. It would make it so much easier."

Ryan Carlson, of Marysville, lives in a group home where he is responsible for taking the household's Waste Management bins to the curb. He watched a YouTube video explaining how to attach a waste bin to a wheelchair. Often, with help from his caregiver, he wraps a bungee cord around the bin and connects it around his calves, when he's seated in his wheelchair. The bin, when propped on its wheels, rolls in front of him as he propels himself toward the curb.

If available, he would accept help from WM staff to place the bins in front of the home for weekly trash collection.

WM, Republic Services and Rubatino all offer carry-out services to assist customers with physical constraints. WM customers can call 800-592-9995 to set up the free service. Republic customers can call the company's local reps to submit a request for carry-out assistance.

"We first do a site visit to confirm the safety of our employees given the variety of situations at the property like dogs, hills, distance to the truck, locked gates," said Wendy Weiker, sustainability and community outreach manager for Republic, in an email. "Safety for our employees, customers and communities is our top priority, so we work with customers and our collections teams when setting up this additional service for as long as a customer may need/want it."

The service may cost an additional fee, depending on the area. If approved, Republic staff will move the customer's bins to the company's truck and back to where customers typically store their bins when they aren't at the curb.

Rubatino customers can call 425-259-0044 to sign up for a carry-out service, costing an additional $8.36 a month.

Mike Gantala, of Monroe, has cerebral palsy, limiting his vision. Curbside recycling bins in Snohomish County often have stickers on the lids with images of common recycle, waste and compost items that can go inside.

"The pictures aren't big enough to see what goes in the bins," he said. Enlarging those images, Gantala said, would help.

Jessica Sanneman, of Everett, is blind. She said she can usually tell the difference between the waste bins by feeling the sides and lids for certain handles or other physical features.

"Those of us who are completely blind — those that can't read print labels — it would probably be helpful if they did have ones with braille labels," Sanneman said. At The Lighthouse for the Blind in Seattle, the waste bins in the break room have braille, she noted.

In other parts of the country, waste collection services offer braille labels to customers.

Merkey, of Everett, said she and others have spoken with Tessera management to see if they can place more recycling bins throughout the complex, or offer additional recycling resources. But management says their concerns need to be addressed by Waste Management.

"There's nothing I can do about it. I'm trying to advocate for myself and others," Merkey said. "But there's nothing I can do."

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