City of Seattle, WA


Jurisdiction: City of Seattle, WA

Plan Year: 2013


Seattle outlines its history as a leader in climate protection, from being the first U.S. city to adopt a green building goal for all new municipal facilities in 2000, to the Mayor’s Climate Protection Initiative launched by Mayor Greg Nickels in 2001, to being one of the first cities to adopt a Climate Action Plan in 2006. Seattle’s first CAP was a plan to meet the Kyoto Protocol target of 7% emissions reduction below 1990 levels by 2012. Seattle went beyond the Kyoto Protocol in 2011 when it adopted a resolution to reach zero net greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and prepare for the impacts of climate change. The 2013 CAP was created by the Office of Sustainability & Environment (OSE) in order to meet these goals.

The CAP was developed through a collaborative process that collected input through a variety of avenues, including as Technical Advisory Groups (TAGs) made up of experts across various relevant fields, the Green Ribbon Commission (GRC) comprised of local leaders who considered TAG recommendations, and public comments submitted online and at community meetings.

The plan focuses on sectors that the City deemed “most needed and will have the greatest impact,” including:

  • Road transportation
  • Building and energy
  • Waste

Seattle’s 2013 CAP also includes actions to improve the community’s resilience to the effects of climate change. The plan was designed to be implemented through relevant plans of different City departments, such as transportation and land use plans, building energy plans, and waste plans. Its recommended actions are organized by short-term activities to be implemented by 2015 and long-term activities to be implemented by 2030.

Materials Management Goals:

Seattle identifies two ways that emissions are released during the waste disposal process: waste transport and waste disposal. However, the City recognizes that emissions from end-of-life waste do not consider the entire life cycle of our waste:

“The more significant role waste plays in climate change is in the emissions that can avoided by waste reduction, sustainable product design, recycling, and composting. Designing and using products sustainably, recycling products at the end of their useful life, and composting organic material are critical waste management strategies that reduce emissions.”

Seattle developed its waste goals based on its 2012 Solid Waste Plan and additional actions that can reduce both upstream and downstream emissions. The City claims that if all of its recommended actions are implemented, it can continue to have net zero emissions from its waste transport and disposal, and increase the amount of avoided emissions from waste reduction and other materials management activities. As such, its two main waste targets are:

  • 70% diversion rate from landfill to recycling and composting by 2022
  • 50% reduction in methane emissions from landfill by 2020

The waste section of Seattle’s CAP also include three items for its “2030 Vision”:

  • The City diverts 70% of its waste to recycling and composting
  • New markets for recycled materials are developed
  • Producers of the goods we consume are taking responsibility for the end-of-life management of their products


Seattle’s strategies to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions associated with waste are organized in three categories: Waste Reduction & Product Stewardship; Recycling & Composting; and Collection, Processing, & Disposal. Below is a sample of some of these strategies—for a complete list by category, see pages 46-50 of the report.

  • Pursue local product stewardship programs
  • Launch programs to support edible food donation, help commercial kitchens find efficiencies and reduce waste, and help households and businesses reduce food waste through better planning, purchasing, storage and preparation
  • Increase enforcement of residential and business recycling and composting requirements
  • Phase-in bans on the following construction and demolition waste from job sites and private transfer stations: recyclable metal, cardboard, plastic film, carpet, clean gypsum, clean wood, and asphalt shingles.
  • Continue to support and expand material exchanges and reuse programs, and promote building with salvaged and reclaimed materials
  • Enhance outreach and education about recycling and composting to residents and businesses
  • Pilot and consider changing to every-other-week garbage collection from single-family homes
  • Focus grants on schools to establish system-wide collection for food and yard waste

Progress Report:

The City of Seattle has not issued a formal progress report on the status of its CAP. However, different departments with their own plans that touch on different pieces of the CAP have various methods of reporting. Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) reported in its 2013 Annual Report Card that 56.2% of all solid waste was recycled in 2013. In its Strategic Business Plan, SPU also reported that single-family homes in Seattle recycle and compost over 70% of their waste, which is the highest rate in the nation.

Next Steps:

Seattle Public Utilities is the lead agency for all waste actions scheduled to be implemented by 2015. OSE is responsible for reporting on progress toward 2015 and 2030 actions annually, and climate action outcome indicators every other year (or as data becomes available). Additionally, OSE is scheduled to update its greenhouse gas emissions inventory every three years.