Recycling rate off target
Published: Friday, August 10, 2012 at 2:25 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, August 10, 2012 at 2:25 p.m.
As the city of Petaluma prepares to complete an independent performance review of the company hauling its garbage, preliminary reports have shown that North Bay Corp has not yet reached its contractual obligation of 50 percent diversion for the garbage and recycling it hauls.
The performance review, being conducted by the R3 Consulting Group out of Roseville, was first initiated after North Bay Corp. requested a contract extension when it took over Petaluma's garbage contract in 2010. City officials, who were unable to work out the extension two years ago due to now defunct city charter laws prohibiting renegotiations until one year before contract expiration dates, said that before they could discuss extending North Bay Corp's agreement they needed to know how the company was performing.
Although R3's report is still in draft form, Petaluma Public Works Director Dan St. John said Tuesday that preliminary results are showing that North Bay Corp's diversion rate has been between 44-47 percent during the past three years.
Based on numbers provided by Patrick Carter, program manager of the Sonoma County Waste Management Agency, diversion rates for North Bay Group have ranged between 43-47 percent over the past three years.
According to North Bay Corp. Government Affairs Director Steve McCaffery, Petaluma's diversion rate for 2010 was approximately 67 percent and that percentage has been calculated at over 70 percent for 2011. When pressed for clarification as to why the recycling calculations are so different, McCaffery explained that North Bay Corp. only handles residential and some commercial recycling.
“Whole Foods, Safeway, Lucky's and many other major businesses in Petaluma recycle, but we don't ever touch that recycling,” said McCaffery. “So, that part of recycling is all part of Petaluma's diversion, but not part of North Bay Corp's diversion.”
That distinction has left many people confused. Vice Mayor Tiffany Renée, who represents Petaluma on the county's Solid Waste Advisory Group — SWAG — said that while she hasn't seen the performance report, she is anxious to hold North Bay Corp accountable to the contract it agreed to.
“Thinking long-term about our waste solutions, we need to be increasing our diversion every year and providing opportunities for zero-waste in the future as we look to restructuring our agreements,” Renee said.
Part of the confusion surrounding diversion rates is that California no longer requires cities to track or report that number. Instead, the state adopted a new policy in 2007 to track waste management success on the basis of pounds per person, per day, of solid waste generated. Statewide regulations require that no more than 7.1 pounds per person, per day, of solid waste go to landfills. According to Carter, Sonoma County's average is far below that, currently sitting at 3.5 pounds per person, per day, of solid waste.
Carter added that Petaluma has been beating that average for several years, ranging between 2.7-3.0 pounds per person for the past five years.
While the city of Petaluma has increased its overall diversion rate up to more than 70 percent in 2011 according to McCaffery, North Bay Corp's contribution to that diversion rate has decreased by 2 percent — down to 45 percent — from 2008 and 2009, the years prior to their taking over the contract.
McCaffery said that while his company is always trying to increase recycling, a diversion rate of between 45 and 50 percent is on par with other jurisdictions in the area. When asked if he felt that being below the contract requirement of 50 percent diversion was acceptable, he said that the city would need to take into account Petaluma's overall diversion rate.
“When talking about our contractual obligation, the city would need to take into account all the diversion that we don't touch,” he said.
But for councilmembers, the contract that North Bay Corp. signed needs to be upheld. Councilmember Mike Healy said that if the final performance report shows the garbage hauler is not meeting its goals, he would want to know why.
Teresa Barrett echoed Healy's sentiments. “The number in the contract is what they should be delivering,” she said. “Landfill is a serious issue and it's something that won't get better unless everyone makes changes.”
McCaffery pointed out that his company has made several improvements in its recycling program since taking over. North Bay Corp. now allows for curbside pickup of electronics, allows for Christmas tree recycling and offers large-item recycling curbside two days a year now.
“Large item recycling used to be offered only once a year, and customers would have to haul their couches or refrigerators to a site,” McCaffery said. “Now, that event happens twice a year and customers can just drop it curbside. It makes it easier which means more people take advantage of it.”
The other major improvement that North Bay Corp has brought to Petaluma recycling is the creation of its recycling dump station at the south end of Petaluma Boulevard South. McCaffery said that because Petaluma's recycled materials are driven to Santa Rosa, having a drop-off site in Petaluma, where trucks that have picked up local recycling can consolidate loads into larger trucks, means less trips to Santa Rosa overall.
“We've cut our trips to the Santa Rosa recycling plant in half,” said McCaffery. “That means less wear-and-tear on the roads and less greenhouse gas emissions from the trucks.”
McCaffery also pointed out that North Bay Corp. allows for “single-stream” recycling, where all materials can be put into one bin, instead of needing to be separated. He added that the convenience means that people are more likely to take advantage of it.
Renée agreed, but pointed out that mixing all recycling together creates a dirtier and lesser quality of recycled materials, which means that when they are resold, the value has decreased. Renée added that the city does not currently receive any revenue from the sale of recycled materials and said that she would like to change that if the contract is renegotiated.
“There are ways for the hauler to share that profit with the city,” Renée said, adding that Petaluma consumers already pay a fee when they purchase recyclable items like glass bottles. “So being able to have some of that reflected back on our rates or sharing in the product sales to help address things like the impact on our roads are all considerations that need to be discussed.”
(Contact Janelle Wetzstein at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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