Recycler fined for garbage-filled Santa Rosa centers

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Sonoma County health officials have begun fining the region’s largest waste hauler for failing to clean up the garbage that is accumulating at its Santa Rosa recycling centers.

The county this week accused the North Bay Corp. of violating the cease and desist order it issued against the company Aug. 28.

The order instructs the company to immediately stop hauling recyclable material contaminated with garbage to its recycling facilities on Standish Avenue without the proper permits.

North Bay officials last week submitted a plan for cleaning up its operations, which includes seeking the proper permits, public education, encouraging employees to report violations, and sending contaminated waste to another facility in Petaluma and ultimately out of the county.

But the county cited “significant shortcomings” with the plan, and began issuing fines against the company of $250 per day after Aug. 28 and $500 per day after Sept. 12. That amounts to $6,750 in fines to date. The fines ramp up from there, increasing to $1,500 per day beginning Oct. 1, $3,000 beginning Nov. 1, and $5,000 beginning Dec. 1.

The company has blamed people who throw garbage into recycling bins for the excessive waste material contaminating its recycling stream. They say the trend toward smaller garbage bins, which are less expensive, has exacerbated the problem.

Recycling centers are allowed to operate without waste permits only if less than 10 percent of the material they process is trash and less than 1 percent is “putrescible” waste, or prone to rotting.

Inspectors found North Bay’s facility at 3400 Standish Ave., Empire Recycling, was processing 21 percent garbage, while the one across the street at 3417 Standish was processing 27 percent garbage, according to the order.

In its plan, North Bay states that not collecting bins that are contaminated with garbage is not a realistic option. The problem is so widespread that if truck drivers rejected blue bins with garbage in them, the company would be “besieged by customers” whose can went uncollected.

Instead, the company is proposing to redirect loads with more contamination to its Petaluma facility, and cleaner loads to Standish Avenue. The company is searching for “third-party contractors” to process that contaminated material, meaning facilities outside of Sonoma County. The company also proposes to hire a “solid waste consulting firm” to help it implement the “public education, pricing strategies, enforcement mechanisms, and other issues” that could help it deal with the problem. The company promised to update the county on these efforts by Nov. 1.

North Bay predicted that these and other measures should enable it to come into compliance with the order (i.e. getting the contamination of its recycling stream below 10 percent) by Oct. 12.

But county officials are skeptical. Christine Sosko, the county’s director of environmental health and safety, doubts the clean-up plan will be able to reduce the amount of garbage to below 10 percent. In a letter to the company, Sosko said she was “pleased” that the company had agreed to apply for a solid waste permit for one of its Standish Avenue facilities, but noted the process can take more than a year. In the interim, there will need to be “significant modifications to operations” to keep the center under the 10 percent garbage limit, she wrote.

In justifying the fines, Sosko said that the situation creates a “risk to health and safety.” Health inspectors noted that rats and birds are infesting massive garbage piles at the centers. In addition, Sosko noted that North Bay was well aware of the rules regarding recycling centers and did not, as its plan asserted, voluntarily report the problems at its operation. Rather, the violations were discovered only after a complaint by a third party was filed, she added.

In an interview, Sosko said North Bay officials have been cooperative but more works need to be done.

“We’re continuing to work with them on the plan and trying to develop something that benefits everyone,” she said.

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

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