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The reason for the garbage rates | January 6, 2012 | The Daily Journal Editorial

The recent stretch of garbage rate increases on the Peninsula have some residents alarmed and even some city officials are crying foul.

But the origination of the new rates is more complicated than just a garbage company wanting to raise rates to make more money.

And there are two main roots — one is a previous policy of allowing cities to roll over what they owe for service and the other is state legislation that mandates increased recycling rates.

When Recology took over the garbage collection contact in the beginning of 2011 it adopted a new policy in which cities could not roll over what they owed in previous years for a period of 10 years. That was allowed for a number of years under the old contract and various city councils decided to roll over what they owed into what was called a balancing account so they wouldn’t pass it on to customers right away. The result of that was some cities owed money to Allied Waste when the contract expired. The amount varied. In Atherton, it was $337,000. In Belmont, it was $1,019,000. Under the new contract, cities can spread out what it owes for a shorter period of time (instead of up to 10 years) with interest at prime plus 1 percent. The prime lending rate is currently 3.25 percent. That essentially means that if cities decide to not raise the rates to what they owe, they will be paying interest on that amount, thus increasing (albeit slightly) the amount rate payers will eventually owe. For some, that makes sense since it means lower rates now.

But the core issue to garbage rates is state legislation that requires cities to recycle a certain amount. In 1989, Assembly Bill 939, authored by Byron Sher, required cities to recycle 50 percent of its waste by Jan. 1, 2000 or face fines. In 2011, Gov. Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 341 that establishes a new statewide goal of 75 percent source reduction, recycling and composting by 2020. It’s a lofty goal, but one that those in the garbage collection business take seriously. When the South Bayside Waste Management Authority contracted with Recology, it was with an eye toward meeting that goal. And thus began the weekly collection of recyclables and compostable material. There is some revenue that is produced from the recyclable material, but there is still a cost associated with the new policy of separating the material that is placed in one bin — which makes it easier for the average person to recycle. Some contend that money can be saved by returning to the twice monthly pickup of recyclable and compostable material but SBWMA officials say it is only a few percentage points overall and would go against the needed goal of recycling to meet the new state requirements.

Weekly recycling is here to stay and as more people recycle, city officials will have to determine if they want to stick with the policy of not charging more for smaller cans to which more and more people are migrating. The political answer would be to keep the rates low for smaller cans since more people use them. But, unfortunately for rate payers, that may not be sustainable in the long term.

Recycling more is good for the planet and keeps Ox Mountain landfill in Half Moon Bay open longer. Once that landfill can no longer take any more trash, costs are sure to rise again as we will have to find another place for what we throw away.

The recent increases in rates are caused by the debt that cities accrued to keep rates low for so many years. Additional rate increases may come as cities realize that low rates for smaller cans are no longer sustainable as officials contend with aggressive recycling rates mandated by state legislation. Further into the future, there will be additional cost for shipping our trash out of the county.

They say it’s not easy being green, and it looks like it’s not cheap either.

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