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Blue carts: Manteca needs to go after those who really ‘don’t care’
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For those of us in Manteca who take recycling seriously — and I’m willing to bet that’s more than 90 percent of us — I have some bad news.

What we place in the blue carts even if we are complying 100 percent with the new guidelines is still ending up being buried at the landfill on North Austin Road beneath the approach to Stockton Metro Airport.

It will continue to be buried there until roughly 10 percent of city households get their act together.

The biggest problem with the non-compliance that more than a few people thought the council may not have expressed all that eloquently has nothing to do with the recyclable items that are no longer recyclable through the city’s collection process but rather the pure garbage that a fair amount of people have always — and continue to — toss into the blue carts. They have always contaminated Manteca’s recyclables. The problem is the sources that take various recyclables have raised their standards. They are no longer taking paper — for example — soiled by food waste. Before they’d salvage what they could and bury the rest.

And while it is true the audit of the solid waste truck that collected the contents of blue carts last week found a lot of recyclables items the city has been trying to get people to place in the brown garbage carts instead because the foreign market has dried up due to increased standards and a domestic market has yet to be developed, that is not as big of a problem. That’s because the city could switch to a labor intensive hand sorting system that would add costs to the ratepayers but would still make sure what could be recycled and not landfilled is recycled.

One misconception in the reaction to Mayor Ben Cantu making a broad “people just don’t care” comment that was really aimed at those who have never been responsible citizens of Manteca or planet Earth for that matter as they viewed blue as a different shade of brown that should be cleared up: The city is not, and never has been, driven to find a recycling solution that they can make money on. The goal has always been to find ways to keep costs down for ratepayers.

It is why the city kept its solid waste collection system when other cities contracted it out. It is why the city instituted the three cart system. By people upfront following the rules and doing what is right for everyone and the environment, the city was able to keep rates down. It is why Manteca enjoyed 11 straight years without a rate increase.

The move to comply with the tighter standards was never meant to be permanent. There was an educated assumption that domestic solutions would develop to allow the now banished recyclables such as newspaper, magazines, general paper, glass, higher numbered plastic containers, non-corrugated cardboard boxes such as food comes in and other items to eventually make their way back into the blue carts.

It is true there is a market for recycled newsprint. The Bulletin makes use of it as do others that print newspapers. But it is only accepted if it is “clean” meaning no garbage or other items such as recyclable plastics.

Even if the city switched to a sorting system all of the paper products such as writing paper, envelopes, computer or copy paper, newspapers, magazines and such would still be useless for the existing and future domestic markets if it is soiled by food waste and such. Manteca and the rest of the United States was able to get away with relatively loose recycling  because developing overseas countries were hungry for “raw materials” for manufacturing items. As the standard of development has strengthened, they no longer will accept America’s garbage in the form of tainted recyclables.

None of this makes many of us happy campers.

I’m one of those unhappy campers. I spent four years of high school in the Ecology Club where we ran twice-a-month collection days for the City of Lincoln in an old school district bus barn where we’d take in aluminum, plastic, and glass containers along with cardboard, tin cans, and newspapers. The summer before high school my best friend at the time — Randy Summers — and I would bicycle around Lincoln and the countryside every morning collecting discarded soda and beer cans as well as rummaging through garbage cans at the city park. At summer’s end we cleared just under $900.

The City of Manteca further sharpened my commitment to recycling. I’m also one of time people who switched to re-useable shopping bags 10 years ago.

I get that the city’s primary objectives are to collect solid waste for health and safety reasons while keeping costs down and making sure Manteca complies with various state mandates regarding the diversion of items from landfills.

The city’s green waste program is going well and the food waste to fuel program will be up and running before the end of the year.

The Achilles heel are those who never have bothered to get with the program either because they are lazy or — as Mayor Cantu noted — “they just don’t’ care.” Perhaps there are a few ignorant of the blue cart rules that were in place prior to certain items being banished in December but I seriously doubt it. California has been on the cutting edge of recycling for decades. To act as if you are completely ignorant of the “old rules” for the blue carts and toss pure garbage in them is a high farce.

Cantu is right that the city needs to control its own destiny by starting a municipal sorting operation but kept in mind it won’t be cheap. At the same time the city needs to step up moving toward a fiber-based composting program where not just household food waste and green waste from yards can be ground up and repurposed but so can paper products — especially those that are soiled.

Rest assured this will raise your monthly solid waste rates.

In reality thanks to the upwards of 10 percent of households that either are careless and contaminate the blue carts occasionally or the complete jerks that use them as garbage carts, this is probably the only realistic option for the city if the goal is to recycle as much solid waste as possible.

At the same time it would be nice to penalize those that are undermining everyone else’s efforts apparently in the belief the rules don’t apply to them or they don’t give a rat’s behind about the environment.

Why not hire a bunch of temporary workers to go ahead of solid waste recycling trucks and thoroughly inspect the contents of blue carts? Do this over a three-month period to cover six recycling collections. The first time they are in violation, tag the cart and don’t dump it. The second time it happens yank the cart and force the household to go to the largest brown cart — or if they already have a large brown cart — add a second brown cart and charge them the additional cost.

Also prohibit them from being able to switch to a smaller cart or to obtain a blue cart for two years. This may require recycling collection routes during the policing period to take place later in the day.

Let’s face it. These are the people who don’t care. So why should the city or the rest of us care about keeping their solid waste monthly charges artificially low because they continue to use blue carts as garbage carts to save themselves money?

The new recycling rules coupled with the tougher near zero tolerance contamination requirements imposed by end users of recyclable only exposed those people for what they are — folks who are either oblivious or self-centered who have been getting a partial free ride at the expense of everyone else.