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Grass Valley council says no to fining recycling scofflaws

A proposal from Waste Management to fine residential customers who “contaminate” their recycling bins with non-recyclable waste was rejected by the Grass Valley City Council Tuesday.

The council did, however, approve an annual rate increase from the garbage collection service.

Waste Management initially brought the proposal to the council on June 12, asking for an annual increase to its rate schedule of 2.5 percent for pickup service and 1.62 percent for the gate fee.

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.

A “contamination charge” would kick off if 10 percent or more contamination was found — with warnings that would escalate into a fine after the third offense and discontinued service for up to one year after the fifth offense. The garbage collection company would also charge a service restart fee after that year.

But the council members postponed making a decision, instead asking Waste Management to conduct more education and outreach.

On Tuesday, Waste Management Public Relations Manager Tisha Gill told the council she had worked with the city to develop a community outreach action plan.

First and foremost, Gill said, Waste Management will conduct a characterization study to better understand the current contamination levels for residential and commercial recycling that is picked up, as well as self-hauled recycling.

The company also is planning a substantial outreach push with educational flyers delivered to all residential customers that outline proper recycling techniques. If violations are found, Waste Management will attach stickers to carts and bins, Gill said. Site visits will be conducted at commercial properties, where staff will conduct a recycling audit and make recommendations.

Waste Management also will conduct outreach on social media and with local media outlets, as well as attend community events.

Staff manned a table at a recent Thursday Night Market, Gill said.

“There were plenty of questions,” she said. “It was eye-opening. It was nice to get out there and really talk to the customers.”

But council members remained unconvinced that a fine structure would serve its purpose.

Council member Jan Arbuckle said after receiving the education flyer, she guessed 90 percent of the customers were not recycling correctly, especially with new regulations in place.

“I want to do the best we can to educate the public,” Gill said. “I hope people find that happy medium — they do the right thing but don’t give up on (recycling). I don’t want that to happen.”

Arbuckle said she still had a problem with fines, calling them unfair. She moved to adopt the rate hike but not the fine system, which passed unanimously. Waste Management was asked to return at the end of the year with an assessment of whether the community outreach had been successful.

Nevada City approved the Waste Management proposal at a recent council meeting. Nevada County is in discussion with Waste Management on how best to address the recycling contamination issue, and the proposal has not gone to the Board of Supervisors.

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

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