Sonoma County tells waste hauler North Bay Corp. to clean up trash piles

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Sonoma County’s health department has issued a cease and desist order against a Santa Rosa recycling center over the large piles of trash that have been accumulating at its Santa Rosa facility.

The county Department of Health Services issued the Aug. 28 order against North Bay Corp., a division of the Ratto Group, the county’s dominant waste hauler, for two recycling sites on opposite sides of Standish Avenue just south of the city.

The order stems from a complaint the county received early last month that the company was operating an illegal solid waste facility. Officials investigated and found massive piles of garbage inside buildings and uncovered outside.

Recycling facilities in the state are allowed to operate without the stringent regulations on solid waste facilities as long as three conditions exist, explained Christine Sosko, the county’s environmental health and safety director. Material must be separated for reuse; no more than 1 percent of that waste can be “putrescible,” or prone to rotting; and no more than 10 percent can be “residual waste,” meaning anything that’s not recyclable — essentially garbage.

Inspectors, after visiting the sites and consulting with the operators, found that a facility at 3400 Standish Ave., Empire Recycling, was processing 21 percent garbage, while a North Bay Corp. facility across the street at 3417 Standish was processing 27 percent garbage, according to the order.

Inspectors noted birds and rats crawling across mounds of recyclables and garbage 12 feet deep and piles of tires intending for recycling. Recycled material and garbage also had been pushed together, and broken areas of concrete made it difficult to clean surfaces, Sosko said.

If the problems aren’t cleared up, North Bay Corp. could be hit with fines for violating the solid waste permit rules, which the county is required to enforce on behalf of CalRecycle, the state waste agency. The county can levy fines of up to $5,000 per day, Sosko said.

North Bay Corp. representatives have made no secret of the challenges they face from people putting garbage in blue recycling bins. They told county inspectors that about 50 percent of the material being collected in the curbside bins is non-recyclable.

In interviews in May, they said that a large number of their 145,000 residential and commercial customers appear to be stuffing household garbage into blue bins.

Also, the bottom has dropped out of the global recyclables market, and both those factors were behind the company’s request for temporary rate increases of $1 per month from the eight Sonoma County cities where North Bay Corp. operates.

Those rate increases have yet to be approved. Meanwhile, despite an education campaign aimed at curbside customers, the garbage continues to pile up at the hauler’s two Santa Rosa sites.

Company officials are working on a plan that they expect to share with county officials this week, said Eric Koenigshofer, the former county supervisor who represents the company.

“Our first order of business is to do everything we can to push the number below the 10 percent,” Koenigshofer said.

An expanded education campaign is likely, as well as identifying routes that have problems and taking additional measures in those areas, Koenigshofer said. That step could involve drivers inspecting bins for garbage, issuing warnings, and, if necessary, refusing to pick up the contents, he said.

“People do have to own some responsibility around what gets in the cans,” he said. “The quickest way to (address the problem) is if the lightbulb went off in the head of every single user in the county, cities and unincorporated areas, and they said, ‘I’m not going to throw garbage in the blue can anymore.’ ”

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or kevin.mccallum@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @srcitybeat.

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