This is not a column defending or attacking the City of Manteca’s Solid Waste Department and the early Christmas present of tighter recycling rules likely to force upwards of half of the city’s 23,000 households to upgrade to larger or multiple garbage carts.
It isn’t the fault of the solid waste department that we collectively as Americans don’t have the discipline that people living in Singapore do. The fact that we have continually contaminated recyclable materials in collection carts with garbage ranging from food to soiled baby diapers has rendered the recycling of all paper, non-cardboard boxes, and other items impossible to do as large swaths of the former Third World where the contaminated recyclables were shipped to be turned into new products now have to meet higher quality standards. That means except for corrugated cardboard, CRV redemption can and bottles, as well as plastic milk cartons we once recycled and firms got money for selling them to overseas concerns are now being buried in landfills at $52 per ton because they are now worthless.
The city is also not to blame for no one wanting a new landfill to open in their backyard which is making existing landfill space more expensive. It is also costs to pay workers as well as purchase and maintain trucks. And no, the refuse collectors are not overpaid.
The city deserves credit for getting ahead of the curve with the food waste to compressed gas program that is now being put in place. It will not only avoid costly landfilling of food waste that Sacramento has mandated must stop in the coming years but it will essentially use food waste to power the City of Manteca’s refuse truck fleet.
Garbage collection —along with safe water flowing from the tap and flushing toilets — is something we not only take for granted but we get irked when there is a price increase. Yet compared to what benefits we derive from the three municipal services we are still getting the bargain of the century. The lack of wastewater treatment systems allowed illness to spread. Drinking water was also a source of a lot of illness. And unsanitary disposal of garbage helped rodents multiply, helped spread disease, and made for unpleasant smells and sights.
Arguably the three most critical advances for prolonging life and improving health are strides we’ve made with wastewater treatment, safe drinking water, and solid waste management.
Our behavior arguably is much more expensive than the rates cities charge for basic services.
We buy bottled water for drinking that ounce for ounce is 600 times more expensive than tap water. We send things down our drain (think garbage disposal) and flush things down or toilet (think hygiene products and baby wipes) that play havoc with the wastewater treatment process and forces more advanced and expensive treatment. Many of us toss CRV bottles we pay an extra nickel to buy instead of taking them to a redemption center. A typical household of three could “get back” $180 annually from redeeming CRVs or enough to cover the cost for five months of getting the 96-gallon cart service from the City of Manteca.
That said most of us aren’t going to be thinking that when we’re cursing the city for coming up with the most cost effective solution to circumstances that forced the burying of recyclables. By separating the “new garbage” that some recyclables have become as they are now worthless from recyclables that still have value, the city is averting a major rate increase that could have been a much as 50 percent above what people are now paying for garbage service.
However to handle more garbage due to the need to toss out recyclable items that no longer can be recycled many of us will need to change-out brown carts for larger ones if we are unable to squeeze what once was recyclable into them. Although it is not a rate increase per se, it is an increase in costs. Going from a 32-gallon cart to a 64-gallon will cost $21.60 a year. It will cost $20.28 a year to go from 64-gallon to 96-gallon and $41.88 to go from a 32 gallon to 96 gallon. Those who are already at 96 gallons and are forced to add another brown cart will be paying $380.64 more a year. That is before rate increases already programmed to go into place annually on Jan. 1 through 2021.
Then there is the change-out charge for carts that is $51.75 per can. That charge is based on the cost of sending a city worker currently to a handful of addresses each week, if that, to deliver and collect carts.
The city should waive that $51.75 charge per cart change-out now through mid-January giving households in the December utility billing a chance to sign up for a change out before the end of the year. That way the city can change out all addresses at one time that request them in a block during the last two weeks of January.
That would drastically slice the delivery cost. To reduce the costs of new carts, the city could order brown lids to replace blue lids on blue carts.
Given the current rate increase being implemented did not take into account some grants the city obtained for the food waste to fuel conversion, there should be cushion in the solid waste budget to offset a temporary free change-out.
Waiving the $51.75 change-out charge will make the medicine for our recycling ills go down a little bit easier.