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Manteca may have the recycling blues but they’re not grabbing more green
Manteca needs to ‘repurpose’ part of blue week workers
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Bashing the City of Manteca for the changes in what goes into the blue recycling cart has been a blood sport of sorts.

Manteca officials have tried mostly in vain to explain that the change in what can be recycled was the result of market forces and not local incompetency. The more lean pickings to go into the blue cart that the city rolled out was in response to what private firms that contract with many cities to do their sold waste collection call “the China effect.”

When China got their fill of contaminated recyclables as did emerging Third World countries they stopped buying them eliminating a convenient dumping ground for Americans who are a bit pious about recycling but as a whole unable to follow basic rules by throwing soiled diapers and food waste in recycling carts containing paper products.

Those emerging overseas economies were more than happy to pay more for recyclables that were tainted while American re-manufacturers were for obvious reasons unwilling to pay for recyclables often rendered useless by being contaminated by garbage. The result has been an extremely limited developed market for recyclable materials in the United States while overseas economies used as an American dumping ground became more sophisticated in their reuse of recyclables which requires almost no impurities.

“The China effect” is about to cost the average Lathrop household $47 more a year ($3.95 a month) in solid waste changes. Toss in a consumer price index increase of 3.5 percent and those Lathrop garbage bills are increasing $5.08 a month. Compare it to Manteca’s new scheduled rate hike for residential customers on Jan. 1, 2020 that will average $1.40. That means by the start of 2020, the average Lathrop monthly solid waste collection fee will be more than $6 a month higher than in Manteca.

Lathrop is also under the same state mandate as Manteca to divert much of the food waste it generates from being landfilled. Rest assured the solutions will be costly and that Republic Services will not absorb the increased costs. That means another significant rate hike is likely in the near future for Lathrop.

Other cities in the region are likely to follow with Lathrop-sized rate increases.

So how come Manteca is dodging the bullet to a degree. It’s a three part answer.

*Manteca is a full service city. The city runs its own solid waste division, operates its own wastewater treatment plant, and owns the water system.

By keeping ownership of its utilities not only do the rates not have to be pumped up to cover profit for a private firm but Manteca can take advantage of synergy. An example was Manteca combining a wastewater treatment plant upgrade with the food waste to fuel endeavor to address state mandates regarding landfill diversion and air quality. Nor very many other cities are in a position to do that in-house given most contract out solid waste collection.

*City ownership of utilities sets the stage for long-term investments. The food to waste program involving commercial stores as well as schools and restaurants, while expensive to launch, pencils out in the long run to keep ongoing solid waste collection costs under control over the long-haul. The same holds true of the organic fiber composting operation the city is exploring combining paper, yard waste, paperboard, and household food waste to produce compost. A private sector collection firm is a middle man. They will simply find someone to pay to take such items off their hands and pass the cost back onto customers instead of investing in an in-house solution that even with profit factored in would still be cheaper than paying someone to take it off their hands who also has to make a profit.

*There is no franchise fee “kickback” that many cities that contract with private solid waste collection firms mandate they pay to the city in exchange for exclusive rights to collect solid waste within municipal boundaries. Of course that fee is collapsed into solid waste charges.

There was a reason Manteca was able to go almost 12 years without a rate increase for solid waste. They have control of many aspects of the solid waste puzzle. Over the years they moved to more efficient vehicles such as hybrid garbage trucks that cost more initially but have a longer life and cost less to maintain. They also have flexibility in drawing up collection routes and such to keep costs down.

This is not to imply that Manteca will not have more rate increases down the road. What it does is underscore the fact Manteca has the ability to take long view actions that will affect future rates in a positive manner. A private sector solid waste collection firm wants to keep costs down to maximize profits but it isn’t likely to make a 30-year investment costing tens of millions of dollars to keep a city’s solid waste costs down when they deal in two to three year contracts.

That said the City of Manteca needs to take a closer look at routes they are running on blue collection weeks. There is anecdotal evidence that a significant number of households are only putting out their blue carts every four weeks — or could get away with doing so — due to a significant drop off in what can now be placed in the blue carts for recycling.

If there is indeed “excessive capacity” on blue weeks to enlarge collection routes this could mean there are solid waste workers that could be freed up for other duties.

One could be shifting the once-a-year free household garbage bin drop offs and collections to blue weeks only.

The other could be to use those solid waste workers to spot check blue carts ahead of collection trucks to see if they are in compliance. The first offense could be a non-pickup and a tag saying the household is out of compliance with city recycling rules while the second offense could be seizing of the blue cart along with a forced upsizing or dropping off a second brown garbage chart with the accompanying charges.

Those who are either too lazy or willfully breaking the recycling rules are not only getting a free ride but are also making solid waste more expensive for those who do follow the rules.

The city could look at going to once-a-month blue cart collection. Those who fill their recyclable carts every two weeks could trade them out for a bigger cart during a grace period for charging fees for changing can size. If they are filling up the large blue cart and doing so legally then dropping off a second cart might make sense.

Of course the numbers have to pencil but given the city’s growth it is quite feasible in relative short order you could readjust solid waste staff duties for once a month blue collection while having bin drop offs and collections on what would have been the second blue collection week of a month.

You could use the available manpower to clean up illegally dumped garbage at locales the second week of each month that would have been for blue cart collection as well as adding teeth to the recycling rules with cart checks on random streets.

These are all possibilities because Manteca is one of the relatively few California cities that retained its own solid waste collection service.