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Manteca works on easing the recycling blues

The ultimate solution to Manteca’s current recycling blues involves one or more options.

Establishing a city owned recycling operation using automation or people to sort recyclables and separate them from garbage as they are moved along a conveyor built.

Creating a composting facility at the wastewater treatment plant for household food waste and useable fiber based products such as paper.

Exploring state requirements for converting plastic into fuel.

Pursuing outlets that would find alternative use for glass that is fashioned from sand to convert recycled glass into cinder building blocks.

Continuing to educate residents.

Finding an affordable vendor to take Manteca’s recyclables.

The pointman for the city’s search for solutions — Public Works Deputy Director of Public Works Peni Basalusalu — shared what Manteca is doing to find solutions during the Thursday Manteca Rotary meeting at Ernie’s Rendezvous Room.

Manteca as well as other municipalities around the country have been hit hard by the rapidly changing global market for recyclables coupled with the fact most American collection efforts of recyclable items now has too high of a contamination rate due to more demanding standards by end users. As a result private and public agencies have been burying many items that are recyclable that no longer have a foreign market as what limited domestic market have been developed so far has the same standards when it comes to contamination that overseas nations have implemented.

Manteca has the added problem that what recyclables they can send to a third party — No. 1 and No. 2 plastic bottles, aluminum and tin food cans, corrugated cardboard, and water and drink containers with California Redemption Value — are being so contaminated by not just items that no longer have a robust market for recycling but also outright garbage that was never OK to toss into blue carts.

A recent audit of a truckload of three tons of material collected from one solid waste truck from blue residential carts in Manteca shows 25 percent of what people were tossing in blue carts dumped on Feb. 14 was unadulterated garbage. The contamination rate for mixed recyclables for vendors to take them is 2 percent. 

Historically Manteca’s contamination rates have been below 20 percent. That was OK as there was an overseas market for the recyclables even with a high contamination rate.

That was before China followed by Vietnam, Thailand and Taiwan started to refuse the import of recyclables with contamination rates beyond 2 percent. What foreign market still remained for recyclables with a higher contamination rates disappeared earlier this month when India said it was also going to stop accepting recyclables mixed with garbage and/or trash.

Basalusalu said the city is still waiting on additional cart deliveries to fulfill change out requests for residents now that items that once could be recycled have to go into the brown carts.

As of Feb. 25, the city had received 3,123 requests for cart change outs. There were 2,288 requests for the 96-gallon carts and 835 requests for the 64-gallon carts. There are still 1,409 more requests to fulfill once shipments of additional carts arrive. Altogether Manteca has 22,294 residential customers that use carts.

Once all of the change outs have been made the step will start enforcing the new rules. Violations can lead to the removal of blue carts forcing more households into larger carts or — in some cases — having to pay for an additional brown cart.

Basalusalu noted aluminum and tin food cans do not have to have the labels removed or be washed out to be placed in the blue carts. There cannot, however, be any food left in the cans.

Among the items that once were recyclable that can no longer go into the carts are cardboard boxes that are not corrugated. The items banned from blue carts range from food boxes like those used for cereal, packaged items and pizza boxes to shoe boxes and such. Glass is also prohibited as are all plastic containers that are No. 3 and higher as well as all paper products. 

Items such as Styrofoam and such that were never recyclable as well as food waste and trash are also not allowed in blue carts.

Basalusalu stressed that Manteca never has been a recycling concern but simply a collector of recyclables that go to a third party that then markets them. The food waste to fuel effort and a possible city composting effort will deviate somewhat from that.

He also said the city is seeking out the most effective and lowest cost solution.

For now, until contamination issues in blue carts can be resolved or other options are implemented, the city’s recyclables are being landfilled at a cost of more than $50 a ton. That expense was never factored into current rate charges.

To contact Dennis Wyatt, email