Grass Valley City Council pushes back on trash rate hike | TheUnion.com

Grass Valley City Council pushes back on trash rate hike

Grass Valley's city council members, citing concerns with de-incentivizing recycling, postponed approving a Waste Management proposal to fine residential customers who "contaminate" their recycling bins.

The proposed fine system, as well as an annual rate increase, was tabled until the next council meeting.

Waste Management has a 20-year franchise agreement with Grass Valley. As part of that agreement, the company was asking for an annual increase to its rate schedule of 2.5 percent for pickup service and 1.62 percent for the gate fee.

Public Relations Manager Tisha Gill told the council Waste Management also was seeking a new fine system to help prevent recycling contamination — when a certain percentage of non-recyclable garbage or organic waste is commingled with the recycling.

According to Gill, in the past Waste Management sold its recycling to China, but that country has tightened its regulations. In the past, she said, China would accept contamination levels of 10 to 15 percent.

But, she said, "they got tired of getting our trash."

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As of March of this year, China will no longer accept recycling with more than 0.03 percent contamination. So now, Waste Management and other corporations are turning elsewhere, to Indonesia and other new markets, but they are tightening up their standards as well.

"We need to make sure the (recycling) product we are getting is clean," Gill said.

Nevada County takes a lot of pride in recycling, Gill noted, with a relatively low contamination rate of 15 to 20 percent compared to up to 60 percent in other cities.

"We need to get a lower level," she said. "Ten percent is ideal for us."

Waste Management is proposing a "contamination charge," Gill said, with warnings that will escalate into a fine after the third offense (of 10 percent or more commingling) and discontinued service for up to one year after the fifth offense. The garbage collection company would also charge a service re-start fee after that year.

"There are some customers who just don't understand, or who continue to recycle things they can't recycle," she said, citing diapers as an example.

Gill told the council that Waste Management now only accepts plastics marked 1 and 2 for recycling, where they used to accept 1-7.

In response to a question from council member Jan Arbuckle, Gill explained that Waste Management's trucks take photos of the recycling as it is emptied and syncs that with the address.

Both Mayor Howard Levine and Vice-Mayor Lisa Swarthout stressed the importance of educating the public in what can be recycled.

Gill told the council that Waste Management used to get rebates for its recycled materials, but now pays $70 a ton — and those added costs need to be paid for by someone.

"Food waste, organics and recycling cost more than trash now," she said. "We pay less to dispose (of waste) at landfill than to recycle or compost. That's the shift we're seeing. It's unfortunate."

Swarthout and Arbuckle both expressed concern that fines would just lead people to stop recycling.

"You're talking about … punishing people for bad behavior," said council member Jason Fouyer. "What's the plan to educate people?"

According to Gill, Waste Management is updating its website to clarify recycling guidelines and looking for more venues to do outreach.

The city council's members asked for more specific education and outreach ideas, however, arguing that Grass Valley would rally behind a push to lower its recycling contamination rates to, say, five percent.

"We have a community that prides itself on doing the right thing," Fouyer said.

Contact reporter Liz Kellar at 530-477-4236 or by email at lizk@theunion.com.