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Thanks to China banning such imports, Manteca & other cities across USA burying recyclables at a much higher cost
City of Manteca Solid Waste Division Superintendent Rexie LeStrange with stacks of blue recycling carts. - photo by DENNIS WYATT

Manteca’s recyclables are now being buried at the landfill on North Austin Road.

It’s the last thing the city — that has one of the highest diversion rates at 60 percent for California municipalities avoiding landfilling solid waste their residents and businesses create — wants to do.

Not only is it bad for the environment but it will be bad for the collective pocketbooks of those in Manteca. The reason is simple. The city now has to pay significantly more to get rid of Manteca’s recyclables.

Manteca is not alone. Every California city is in the same boat including Ripon and Lathrop that contract solid waste collection to private firms. When their contracts come up Lathrop and Ripon households and businesses will have the costs of landfilling recyclables passed on to them.

The City of Manteca is looking at how to go about how to deal with the fallout of the value of almost all recyclables crashing to being worth nothing after China — fed up with buying post-consumer recycling material that was contaminated with everything from diapers to food waste — banned the importation of 24 kinds of solid waste. The ban that started in March means China — the world’s largest importer of recyclables in the world — no longer is taking recyclables from the United States.

It is likely to mean

a monthly residential

surcharge around $1

As things stand now that will mean a rate surcharge of around $1 or so a month for residential customers and likely significantly more for commercial accounts.

Solid Waste Division Superintendent Rexie LeStrange said the city is trying to determine the best way to implement a surcharge that would go away at some point in the future when the private sector is able to come up with feasible options besides burying recyclables. At the same time they want to keep the city’s 60 percent diversion rate of recyclables intact meaning they don’t want people to stop recycling.

A surcharge is expected to go into effect sometime in early 2019.

 Manteca in an average month recycles 675 tons of recyclables, 4,000 tons of garbage, and 900 tons of green waste.

Instead of paying a $51 recycling fee per ton charged at the landfill to essentially sort recyclables and ship them to buyers that no longer exist, the recyclables that are now worthless are being landfilled at almost twice the cost. The only thing there is still a market for is cardboard

Manteca is now paying $90 a ton to bury garbage. That is expected to accelerate as burying recyclables at the landfill will shorten its life. Once that happens due to the difficulty in establishing a new landfill in California, its likely an expensive out-of-state solution will be needed that will have higher shipping costs as well.

Other alternatives cost

more than burying

recyclables at landfill

The city has explored other alternatives including having recyclables burned at the Crows Landing power plant in Stanislaus County off of Interstate 5. The only problem is every alternative costs more. The Crows Landing option is the cheapest but it is $100 per ton as opposed to $90 per ton to landfill recyclables. And that $100 per ton doesn’t include a significant jump in shipping costs.

Part of the city’s dilemma is how to adjust rates to generate what could easily exceed $325,000 a year in additional tipping fees to landfill recyclables. The cost of doing so was never factored into the city’s new garbage rate that went into effect in 2017 after a 12-year span of no rate increases. 

One idea floated was to end the city not charging for the collection of green waste that will continue to be made into compost as well as no longer providing recycling collection at no charge. The entire solid waste bill is now based on the size of the brown cart for garbage. 

Since people would be paying for all three services by splitting the garbage side they may see no value in not contaminating recyclables or green waste. When that happens now after residents being warned not to do so, the city will remove the blue or green cart — or both if both are being contaminated. That forces the residential customer to somehow put all of their trash in the brown cart. What usually happens is they pay a $50 fee to switch to a larger brown cart that also comes with a larger monthly charge.

The psychological impact of charging for all three cart services as opposed to a surcharge could trigger large scale contamination that the city would have a hard time staying on top of even though at some point down the road a domestic market may be created for clean recyclables.

Many households have

large & multiple blue

carts compared to

those used for garbage

The issue of how to go about implementing additional fees or a surcharge is complicated by the fact most Manteca households not only have larger recycling carts than garbage carts but also many have multiple recycling carts. Implemented wrong  and the city could end up with people simply tossing garbage in the recycling carts as they would perceive it as not saving them money.

The only way to prevent that from happening is for the city to continue to be vigilant on contamination of recyclables even though they are being buried.

“Whatever charge we come up with it needs to be fair,” LeStrange said.

That is where the size and number of the blue carts come into play.

Since the city now longer would be paying essentially half the cost per ton to get rid of recyclables as they are now being treated the same as garbage, a household with two large 96-gallon blue carts as opposed to those with a single 32-gallon blue cart would not being paying their fair share if the city simply imposed a surcharge on all households for recycling.

LeStrange noted in most cases the 32-gallon blue carts are used by households typically with only one person that also tends to be retired and on a fixed income.

“It’s a mess,” LeStrange said.

While Oregon is scrambling to bring a shuttered newspaper mill back on line to process recycled newspapers back into useable newsprint, she sees no such solutions on the horizon anywhere in California.

“The environmental laws (to open such plants) are tough to overcome in California,” LeStrange noted.

New cart to harvest

CRVs worth a nickel

apiece has big pitfalls

Given that an estimated 90 percent of containers used in Manteca that have California Redemption Value (CRV) are tossed in blue carts and not taken to redemption centers that operate near several supermarkets in Manteca as required by state law, the city looked at deploying an additional cart for that purpose.

If a typical Manteca household (there are roughly 25,000) was placing an average of 10 such containers a week in blue carts that have a nickel CRV that could generate $650,000 a year. 

That sounds great but new containers at $65 a pop for all households would cost in excess of $1.6 million. There are also handling costs for personnel and such the city would incur.

Then there is the issue of what happens to the containers when they are put on the street for collection. Since they are 100 percent CRV items that would make them an easy target for people to steal whether they are homeless, supporting a drug habit, or simply want money. Currently a number of homeless “work” the collection routes before city recycling trucks do their rounds to skim off easy to take recyclables. For the most part they are no longer scattering the content of blue carts and leaving them on the ground but instead simply take what is near the top.

Their activity is verified by people between 1 and 3 a.m. bicycling around Manteca with large garbage bags filled with recyclables.

If the city went to CRV carts it would make the pickings easier and would likely exacerbate homeless issues.

And while that might be a big “if” in terms of how big of a hit the city would take what it is also likely to do is encouraging more people to simply use such a cart to store their CRV items and then take them to a redemption center to collect money.

If a household of four went through 24 soda/juice and other such containers a week given that is simply 6 containers per person that represents $1.20 a week or $62.40 a year. And given that is likely on the low side, the real value to such households could exceed $100 a year. 

That would likely result in a significant drop in CRV containers going to the city. Coupled with pilferage — items placed in carts once they are placed on city streets for collection  become the property of the city — Manteca isn’t likely to raise enough money consistently to offset the increased cost of burying recyclables.

At the same time, households could negate the impact of a city-imposed recycling charge triggered by China banning the import of recyclables by taking them to redemption centers.

Consumers are charged a nickel for each CRV containers they buy.

Surcharge would be in

addition to annual rate

increases through 2021

Also keep in mind rate increases are already in place that will go into effect in steps at the start of each year through January 2021.

The monthly rate structure as adopted is being phased in through January 2021.

It will take the 35-gallon cart that was $19.78 in January of 2017 to $30.67 in January of 2021 for a $10.85 per month increase.

It will take the 65-gallon cart that was $25.49 in January of 2017 to $32.61in January of 2021 for a $7.12 per month increase

It will take the 95-gallon cart that was $30.02 in January of 2017 to $34.33 in January of 2021 for a $4.11 per month increase.

It will take senior low-income cart service that was $12.72in January of to $19.72 in January of 2021 for a $7 per month increase.

The charge the city will need to impose due to the recycling issue will be on top of those rates.

To contact Dennis Wyatt, email