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Recycling fiasco: Possible $2.3M windfall to help offset costs, create employment
Dennis Wyatt

Let’s talk trash.

Manteca next month plans to roll out new recycling rules due to the market for recyclables such as non-cardboard boxes, all paper, tin cans and non-CRV glass containers collapsing. All of that stuff will need to go into our brown carts. It will likely mean roughly half the households in Manteca will need to switch to bigger brown carts to accommodate what are now “bad” recyclables. This will cost us more each month on top of programmed rate increases coming up on Jan. 1 in 2019, 2020, and 2021.

Manteca has a moral obligation to its ratepayers who are captive customers to be transparent, fiscally responsible, and efficient.

First of all, we are not getting anything free from the City of Manteca when it comes to solid waste collection.

We are told the city doesn’t charge us for the blue carts for recycling and the green carts for yard waste. Not true. It costs money to run trucks to collect recyclables and yard waste whether it’s manpower, wear and tear on the trucks, gas or the tipping fee per ton composting companies have charged Manteca for years to take yard waste. It’s just like the fee shredding events. They don’t charge us to take items there to be shredded but the cost is certainly factored into the monthly solid waste charge we pay. Shred-It isn’t providing the trucks for free and the solid waste workers are being paid time and a half.

That’s not to say the city shouldn’t provide the service. It’s just that it isn’t free per se as you are paying for it if you live in a Manteca household with mandatory solid waste service whether you use the free Shred-It events or not.

Given the rules of the recycling game has changed due to the remaining “good” recyclables being contaminated by the new “bad” recyclables requiring them to be landfilled at $52 a ton, has the city really examined less expensive options?

The City of a Ripon in conjunction with a Ripon Unified school site clubs such as the Ripon High Boosters and parent teacher clubs at elementary schools have been recycling cardboard and other items for years with upwards of $60,000 flowing into non-profit treasuries to underwrite education enhancements.

Not saying Manteca should do what Ripon is doing but it begs the question of how much money Manteca will be dumping into the lap of the contractor that takes recyclables under the new rules for what goes into the blue carts. Until other countries stopped taking paper, non-cardboard boxes and such for recycling due to excessive contamination the City of Manteca didn’t pay the firm that took the city’s collected recyclables to broker to recycling firms.

That dynamic has changed. The recyclables as they are now collected in Manteca have to be buried. The change would allow the firm to continue to take “good” recyclables and resell them.

That essentially is only two things — corrugated cardboard and California Redemption Value (CRV) containers. The cardboard market in terms of prices fluctuates but there is a domestic market demand thanks to the explosion of e-commerce shipping. As for CRVs, they are a set value. Each one is worth 5 cents although a few larger containers will fetch 10 cents.

Before it made no sense for Manteca to think of doing cardboard and CRV recycling on its own given the firm they used was able to take the less valuable recyclables that are now basically  worthless such as all paper off their hands.

Once the city switches to the new recycling rules they will be delivering to the recycling firm at no cost the highest valued recyclables there are. The loss of a market for many recyclable items the city is moving to require to go into brown carts means the city will be handing over recycling gold to the processing firm while taking the fool’s gold and landfilling it using more dimes from Manteca residents to pay for them being buried.

If each household in Manteca generated 100 CRV items every two weeks that is a $5 value based on the nickel redemption. Over the course of 26 blue cart collections a year that’s $130 annually per household.

Given there are people who take CRVs to redemption centers on their own to get back cash, cut back the per household yield by more than 25 percent to $100 a year. Multiply that by 23,000 households and pretty soon that nickel redemption value most of us don’t mess with is suddenly worth $2.3 million.

The question that elected leaders need to ask is whether much consideration has been given to that $2.3 million.

It would seem with all other recyclables except for corrugated cardboard out of the blue carts that separating the CRVs out and processing them through the state redemption system would be simple. You wouldn’t need an elaborate setup. Put in place a larger Ripon-style operation with the cardboard compacting equipment, put in place a canopy or maybe a basic Butler-style building where people making $15 an hour can separate the CRV from the cardboard and place them in appropriate compactors.

Assuming you’d need 10 workers, 8 hours day making $15, and adding $10 an hour once all payroll costs, benefits, and ancillary support expenses (administrative overhead); it would cost $2,000 a day in manpower or $520,000 a year.

There are other costs such as equipment and minimal structures as well as shipping recyclables once they have been crushed to consider. But even if it takes $1.5 million to pull off annually, it generates $800,000 more to wipeout the cost of landfilling “bad” recyclables by applying it to existing rates and adjusting them accordingly. That would mean any changes to large brown carts could be negated by recycling revenue.

It could be a win-win. The city could generate enough revenue to cover landfilling the “bad” recyclables that they could possibly “freeze” or reduce programmed rate hikes for the next three years by backfilling it with revenue from the sale of recyclables. It could also generate up to 10 new low-skill jobs that could be used by those entering the workforce out of high school while working toward other goals and/or to employ those homeless that Manteca gets off the streets as they start their journey back into the workforce.