Scuttlebutt: Recycling in Point arena (with a happy ending?)

     In late fall of last year the City of Point Arena got a new solid waste hauler.  Recology Inc has purchased Pacific Coast Disposal, a subsidiary of North Bay Corp, a subsidiary of The Ratto Group, which is leaving the solid waste business.  Like many corporate structures the solid waste business has experienced may acquisitions and name changes.  Recology's roots began in 1921 in San Francisco as the Scavenger's Protective Association.  In 1965 they became Golden Gate Disposal.  By 1986 they were known as Norcal Waste Systems at which time they were sold to their employees, making them  currently the largest 100% employee-owned company in the solid waste collection and processing industries, with over 3,000 employees.  A year later they purchased Sunset Scavenger, their Bay Area counterpart for many years.  In 2009 Norcal Waste Systems changed it name to Recology Inc.

     Ratto's departure from the waste hauling business was not without controversy.  While offering low collections rates North Bay was found to cut numerous corners.  They faced nearly $14 million in fines from Santa Rosa from alleged violations of its contract with the city. The Sonoma County Department of Health Services also has levied steep fines for permit violations at Ratto’s Standish Avenue recycling facilities. The company’s aging fleet of trucks and equipment also need millions of dollars in upgrades.  Neither of founder James Ratto's sons wished to continue in the waste hauling business so the sale to Recology was a welcome out.

     This is all good news for Point Arena.  City Manager Richard Shoemaker finds Recology to be a very responsive hauler and “great to work with”.  I spoke with Celia Furber, Waste Zero Manager, and Casey Williams, Public Education Manager, and got the definite impression that Point Arena is now dealing with a different kind of solid waste company.

     In the past recycling was something that was thrust onto traditional garbage haulers.  It was never a primary focus of their business model.  The 1989 Integrated Waste Management Act began California's effort to recycle and reduce material delivered to landfills  It mandated that cities and counties must make significant efforts to divert recyclables from landfills.  This played out as additions to hauling contracts to include recycling services, which was not always welcomed by traditional haulers.  Though Recology has been around in some form for nearly a hundred years, they have embraced recycling and zero waste as a major goal of the company.  In 1996, Recology pioneered the nation’s first comprehensive, curbside organics collection program in the City of San Francisco and  transitioned to single-stream recycling nearly twenty years ago. 

     Point Arena's 3-page hauler agreement is very likely the shortest and least comprehensive hauling contract in the state of California.  Nevertheless, it contains the low collection rates for customers for which Ratto was famous  and Recology has no immediate plans for a rate hike request for its 17 commercial and 82 residential customers in Point Arena.  Furthermore, though the contract makes no mention of recycling programs for schools,  Recology is going above and beyond to work with local schools to enhance their recycling and education efforts.  An outreach worker has been scheduled to visit the schools to discuss this work.

     While there is no requirement in the contract to haul yard waste I am told they “are currently assessing equipment needs and logistics for the possibility of providing this service in Point Arena.”

     Those who follow the recycling issue (we meet in a phone booth in Berkeley) are aware that China has long been the dumping ground for our recyclables to be turned into feed stock for reuse by industry.  No one will be surprised to hear that, as a group, Americans don't loose a lot of sleep over the recycling issue.  A quick visit to the Point Arena drop-off reveals considerable amounts of non-recyclable material in the bins in addition to un-emptied soda bottles, half-full tomato sauce jars, moldy cat food cans and other garbage.  It turns out that China has developed a sufficient consumer class to provide them with much of the recyclables their plants can hold and they are rejecting “dirty” loads from the U.S. and elsewhere.  This means that unless we want to start increasing both our landfill capacity, a difficult and costly task, along with garbage rates, we have to start taking recycling more seriously.

     When asked what message Recology would most like to include in this article, Ms. Furber emphasized the need for clean loads.  Emptying and cleaning containers is important.  Some consumers are concerned about wasting fresh water to do so.  The good news is that used dish water or other non-fresh water is more than suitable for this function.  There is no need for perfect cleanliness.  Even a used napkin will do a nice job of wiping out that yogurt container before recycling.  I let my dog lick them clean along with cat food cans.  So give that salad dressing bottle a quick and dirty rinse.

     If you are still reading here is a briefly recap what is acceptable and what is not.  This applies not only to those curbside customers in Point Arena, but the many out-of-town folks who use the drop-off at Arena Cove.

     First and foremost is the detestable styrofoam.  Though I have never met anyone who likes the stuff, it is ubiquitous.  Unfortunately it is virtually never recyclable and must go to the landfill.  Don't try to hide it in the cardboard box you are recycling.  It doesn't mitigate your error.  Besides it is best to flatten those cardboard boxes anyway.

     The next big one is film plastic.  Baggies, packaging plastic and leaf bags are a big no-no.  They screw up machinery and are a big pain.  Many conscious recyclers drop off their perfectly recyclable material in leaf bags.  Please empty the leaf bags into the drop-off bins and take them home and reuse them or they must go to the landfill.  I could write a whole column on the nearly universal, yet unnecessary use of garbage bags to begin with, but that will have to wait for another time.

     Another bad boy is waxed cardboard.  Household consumers don't often have to deal with this material, but it if you do, I have a suggestion.  For those of us who use wood stoves in the winter, strips of wax cardboard make excellent kindling and a whole box or two will make your brush fire take right off.

     Organics (you should be composting), ceramics, glassware, mirror glass and windows, and large scrap metal (that old pot or pan is OK) are also not accepted.  Liquids, clothing, and coat hangers are too off the list.  If you must recycle shredded paper, put it in a tight paper bag.

     On the plus side they do take wax milk containers and aseptic containers.  Those are the ones that are multi-layered and are often used for soups, sauces and juice (take out the plastic straw).  Rigid plastics like laundry baskets or lawn chairs are acceptable, but not if they also have metal as part of them.  Phonebooks and paperbacks are OK, but not hard cover books.

     Check Recology's website for full details or give them a call.  They are happy to help.

     All this detailed information is important, but not as important as attitude.  The unfortunate reality is that many Americans believe that their lives are too busy and important to bother with recycling.  Besides being frighteningly arrogant, this attitude leads to one inescapable fact.  If you can't take care of your own mess, someone else will and it will come right out of your wallet.

Words on Wellness

The Mendocino County Almost Fringe Festival April 27, 28, and 29 in Point Arena