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Manteca: Greenest city in the SJ Valley
Dennis Wyatt
Dennis Wyatt

Call Manteca “the blue collar” environmental town.

While high profile environmental conscious cities such as Berkeley, Davis, Santa Cruz, and others grab the headlines for what are essentially initiatives that eat away at pollution and air quality issues, Manteca has been hammering away at making big changes that have much larger impacts.

The food to waste program is just the beginning of a number of initiatives that ultimately could make the Manteca wastewater treatment plant campus the greenest in all of California.

And that’s on top of the direction last week by the City Council for staff to start researching a plan to imitate a move Berkley made earlier this year to require all restaurant take-out dishes and utensils to be compostable January 2020. At the same time dine-in food will be served only using reusable dishes and utensils by July 2020. The only other place in the Central Valley with that requirement is Davis.  If the council embraces all of the Berkeley initiative, Manteca will one up Davis by also requiring restaurant customers to pay 25 cents for a disposable cup or else bring their own. The landmark ordinance Berkeley adopted in January regarding coffee cups goes into effect Jan. 1, 2020.

The environment is the driving force behind Manteca’s decisions but right up there with it is another green initiative — saving green.

Manteca has made evaluating alternative technology since the days when Vince Hernandez was on the council and was constantly pushing for staff to look at hybrids and other emerging technologies first and foremost on the conviction that in the long haul they can save money.

It is why Manteca ultimately became the first city in the western United States to buy hybrid solid waste trucks. Not only did the city save on fuel and put quieter trucks on the street, but they also saved an average of $2,000 to $4,000 a year on brake replacement given brakes on hybrid vehicles have significantly less wear and tear. Engines also last longer.

It is important to keep in mind Manteca has chosen to take the long view on its green investments doing mega-projects in addition to smaller initiatives throughout the city over the years that are for the long-haul. Once costs are recovered they typically pay off significantly in the long haul which is why sewer, water and solid waste rates have been relatively stable over the years.

There are two more projects coming down the line that will make the city greener as well as having the potential to save even more green.

The first is a major solar farm aimed at wiping out much of the annual $1.6 million PG&E bill to operate the wastewater treatment project and avoiding future PG&E hikes. The for-profit utility is seeking a 12.8 percent hike in the aftermath of the Butte County wildfire they concede their faulty and aging equipment likely started that ended up killing 86 people, destroying 14,000 homes and burning 5,000 other structures.

The city is in the preliminary stages of establishing their own sorting center for recyclables and garbage at the wastewater treatment plant.

 Public Works Deputy Director Peni Basalusalu, who oversees the solid waste division, noted it is part of an effort to make sure Manteca can exert as much control over its solid waste stream as possible.

At the same time the city is looking at a composting operation at the treatment plant that would create material for fertilizing landscaping and farm crops as well.

It would allow Manteca not to be susceptible to the recycling aftermarket that’s because it would take yard waste, residential food waste, and fiber based process such as newspapers, office and school paper, and paperboard products (think cereal boxes and shoe boxes) and compost them. That would take a significant chunk out of what is now being landfilled at $52 a ton.

The city’s own sorting facility would assume they would have for sale clean recyclable items with almost no contamination. That would allow the city to sell recyclable items such as plastics when after-market industries develop in the United States as well as those oversees given they can assure what they sell won’t have the 20 percent plus contamination now sinking American recycling efforts.

Basalusalu indicated such a sorting and composting operation could have additional capacity to possible take in trash form nearby cities as a potential source of additional revenue for Manteca.

It may be frustrating for more than a few Manteca residents that the city is still landfilling recyclables in the short term but the solutions they are working on eliminates the drag “bad” household recyclers have on everyone else and have the potential to vault Manteca to the forefront of the green effort while saving money and keeping rates in the long haul as low as possible.

To contact Dennis Wyatt, email