South Sound News

Waste collection company charges Pierce County customers new ‘tip fee’ for trash disposal

A Washington waste collection company is now charging its Pierce County customers a so-called “tip fee” for their trash disposal.


KIRO 7 News spoke with several customers in Pierce County about the new fee.

Geff Ratcheson, a customer of LeMay, showed us his online bill Monday afternoon.

At the very bottom, it reads:

“Effective 3/1/2024 your bill will reflect a 2.11% increase in the tip fee at Landfill Recovery, Inc.”

No other explanation was shared near this statement within the online bill.

“Furious,” said Ratcheson. “It’s hidden on the very bottom of the PDF online bill.”

“There’s no explanation of any sort,’ he added.

Viola Stewart, another customer, said, “I’m very surprised. It would have been nice to be informed or something in a letter or a statement. Not down at the very bottom in tiny writing.”

“The only thing I was notified is that they’re going to change the pick-up dates, and I had no clue about being charged extra money,” she added.

KIRO 7 News reached out to LeMay to get more details about this newly added fee.

Rick Vahl, government affairs manager at LeMay, said, “A tip fee in the solid waste and recycling industry is about tipping a container over and emptying that garbage.”

“It’s what we would charge for a customer based on the disposal to one of our facilities,” he added.

Vahl said the fee is driven by inflation, capital projects along with other additional costs.

We asked Vahl if the company had notified customers in advance about the new tip fee.

“Absolutely. We complied with all our expectations from our regulatory bodies,” he said. “Communication is paramount with our customers. And we do use our bills on our website to notify them. And we make sure we follow the strict guidance that the Utility Transportation Commission, the UTC, or any of our contracted cities would expect us to communicate. So our internet is to communicate from multiple levels.”

Vahl said inflation was roughly at 5.7% when the tipping fee – 2.11% - was being evaluated.


KIRO 7 News spoke with several residents about the company’s response to get their thoughts.

Ratcheson said the term “tip fee” is “a really inappropriate word.” He added, “There’s an awful lot of people out there, especially on this part of town, who unfortunately have mental health issues, wouldn’t even understand it, if they saw it.”

“Most people, who weren’t aware of the correct definition, were pretty angry like when I was when I first saw it,” he said. “We need more clear communication from LeMay to their customers. Again, if felt it was somewhat hidden. Most Americans, to the best of my knowledge, when I see the word tipping in that context, I think about a waiter or waitress or another service worker. I’m giving them a gratuity too.”

Stewart said, “I think they should be direct and honest and say if this is an increase for going to the landfill or wherever they’re going, then fine. But if they’re not telling us what it’s for, then I’m not happy about it.”

“I immediately think tip like at a restaurant. I’m giving an extra tip for the waitress for good service,” she added.

Stewart told KIRO 7 News that she often pays her trash, yard waste, and recycling bills on the phone.

“I always talk to somebody on the phone and they have never once mentioned they’re going to have a tip fee. Not once. And I’m talking to a human person,” she said.

Another resident, who did not want to be on camera, said, “They should have used different verbiage.”

“I wouldn’t have known had you not showed up at my house. I wouldn’t have known there was a tip fee,” she continued to share.


KIRO 7 News reached out to leaders with Pierce County to learn more about how the tip fee was approved.

We received a letter written by Pierce County Planning & Public Works that was addressed to Pierce County Council Chair Ryan Mello.

The letter, dated September 1, 2023, notified the chair about the rate hike that would take effect on March 1, 2024.

Officials also said the county’s contract with LeMay calls for an annual solid waste fee change in March.

“The Pierce County Solid Waste Division recommends a rate change to Council for approval,” an official explained. “This annual rate change is meant to track with inflation and can either go up or down.”

The spokesperson said “the term ‘tip fee’ is misleading.”

“We can understand that calling the solid waste fee a tipping fee can be confusing and will be working the LeMay to change their verbiage going forward,” the official added.

“Each year, Pierce County Planning and Public Works Solid Waste Division, is contractually obligated to propose a solid waste fee change to the Pierce County Council, in response to inflation rates and total tonnage of solid waste. Our recent rate increases have all been under the average inflation rate for the year based on regional Consumer Price Index. To support the underserved populations in our community, Pierce County facilitates community clean-up events and works with community partners (school districts, food banks, etc.) to provide disposal fee assistance to those in need. – Ryan Dicks, Sustainable Resources Administration.”

KIRO 7 News asked the county if they have any procedures to ensure the price hikes do not get out of control and significantly impact residents, especially those who live within underserved communities.

“As the legislative body for Pierce County, the Council can hold a hearing to determine if annually proposed adjustments are consistent with the inflationary formula and other terms of the Waste Handling Agreement. The Council has done this several times in the past, most recently in 2021 for 2022 rates. This is the mechanism the Council has to provide a check and balance to this process,” another spokesperson said.