Saturday, January 8, 2011

Massive new composting program rolls out in the Bay Area

On the peninsula just south of the San Francisco International Airport, in San Mateo County, Recology just began curbside organics collection for 92,000 households and more than 10,000 businesses. Yeah, you read those numbers right. A huge new program, that is of course seeing some glitches but that aims to divert 25 to 35 percent more organics and recyclables from the landfill.

Some other staggering numbers: Organics collection is offered to all 403,000 (!) households in Alameda County, fueled by's promotional and outreach efforts. In San Francisco, 225,000 households and 4,000 businesses have curbside collection, including 8,500 apartment buildings (typically very difficult to reach because of the transient nature of the residents). Read the full BioCycle article here.

Anyway, back to San Mateo County: With new weekly organics and recycling collection (recycling used to be every other week, and the curbside organics is brand-new), rates are going up, so I can foresee about 800 million angry phone calls. But hopefully the people who feel as my friend does will also speak up and contact Recology with words of support and praise.

Here's what my friend Yvonne, who lives in Foster City, said Friday: "They were working out their routes today, missed streets, etc, but the kids loved seeing the new trucks around all day! The higher cost is totally worth it. We have one bag of diapers and not even half a grocery bag of other trash." (Thanks for the pics, guys!)

And look at all the plastics they can recycle curbside, too.
Plastic (no bags or black plastics)
  • Coffee cup lids
  • Plastic bottles and caps, tubs and lids and containers, including clamshells, numbered 1-7
  • Plastic buckets

Below are some news stories:
From the Daily Journal of San Mateo County, 1/8/11:

Officials hope to work out garbage glitches
January 08, 2011, 02:38 AM By Caitilin McAdoo Bay City News Service

A switch to a new garbage and recycling service provider that began Monday in parts of San Mateo County has seen some glitches, but officials have said they are confident the problems will be worked out.

Recology San Mateo County is providing the new service to 92,000 residential customers and more than 10,000 commercial customers in Belmont, Burlingame, East Palo Alto, Foster City, Menlo Park, Redwood City, San Carlos, San Mateo, Atherton, Hillsborough, the West Bay Sanitary District and parts of unincorporated San Mateo County.

Recology took over the service from Allied Waste after being awarded a 10-year contract with a $51 million base compensation for the first year, according to Monica Devincenzi, recycling outreach and sustainability manager for the South Bayside Waste Management Authority, a joint powers authority known as RethinkWaste.

The new automated service offers improved recycling services, including weekly pickup of recycling and green waste.

It also offers expanded green waste recycling that includes food waste and even pizza boxes.

With the new system, customers no longer have to separate recyclables such as bottles, cans and paper by type and can instead throw them all into a single bin that can be wheeled out to the curb.

“Overall the service has been going pretty well,” Devincenzi said.

She noted that Recology has received numerous complaints from customers, mainly for missed pickups, but said that the company has been proactive about responding to those complaints.

One issue customers have had is that when they call to report a problem, they can’t get through to anyone. Recology has brought in 15 additional customer service representatives over the past few days, and Thursday, the company put 11 additional trucks on the street to pick up garbage that had been missed, Devincenzi said.

Hold times for customer service are now less than a minute, Devincenzi said, and she expects the additional trucks to be back out on the streets today picking up waste that was missed.

Gina Simi, spokeswoman for Recology, said that some customers had experienced missed pickups the week before Recology began its service, which accounts for some of the complaints.

Some elderly people and people with disabilities who previously had backyard pickup with Allied Waste did not get backyard pickup this week, Devincenzi said.

Recology is working on updating their system for special pickup instructions and is asking people who wish to have backyard pickup services provided to call the company to update their information, Devincenzi said.

The new system is expected to greatly reduce the amount of garbage customers send to the landfill.

Simi said the company is estimating a 25 percent to 35 percent increase in composting and recycling in the service area.

In the first three days of the new service, there was a 78 percent increase of compost and green waste and a 31 percent increase in recycled materials, Devincenzi said.

“For a rollout of this size ... there are bound to be some problems and glitches,” said Redwood City spokesman Malcolm Smith.

He said he has received numerous complaints from residents reporting missed service, but a handful of people have also contacted him to say that the switch went smoothly for them.

“I have a great deal of confidence that they will work out the bugs,” Smith said.

Despite the complaints, Simi said that 97 percent of customers experienced no problems with the new service. She also noted that the week after Christmas is traditionally the heaviest garbage week of the year, and this year the amount of garbage collected was double what was collected last year.

Devincenzi said she wanted to remind customers that the new pickup times and routes are different from what people have been used to.

Officials are asking customers to wait until 6 p.m. before reporting a missed pickup.

In another change from the previous collector, Recology trucks will go down one side of a street picking up trash with their mechanical arms and then return at a later time to pick up trash on the other side of the street.

For safety reasons, the new routes require the trucks to make mainly right turns.

The new three-cart system, known as CartSMART, also means that three different trucks will collect the contents from the three types of bins at different times, Devincenzi said.

The new service, however, also means rate increases for most customers.

Member agencies, which each set their own rates, are in the process of recalculating rates. Overall, customers can expect an average rate increase of between 15 percent and 30 percent with a maximum increase of 38 percent, Devincenzi said.

Record volumes of material were collected by Recology during the company’s initial days of service in San Mateo County, Calif., through a new contract.

The company saw a 78% increase in the daily average of organic materials collected and a 31% increase in the daily average of recyclable materials collected during its first three days of service this week, Recology said.

Recology, formerly known as Norcal Waste Systems, began servicing 92,000 homes in San Mateo County this week.

Recology is providing service to members of the South Bayside Waste Management Authority, also known as RethinkWaste, in the county.

The 12 members of RethinkWaste are Atherton, Belmont, Burlingame, East Palo Alto, Foster City, Hillsborough, Menlo Park, Redwood City, San Carlos, San Mateo, the county of San Mateo, and the West Bay Sanitary District.

"We are very excited about the increased recycling volumes we are seeing," said Kevin McCarthy, executive director of RethinkWaste. "The success in recycling experienced thus far exceeds our expectations."

From the San Francisco Examiner, 1/5/11:

Peninsula residents in 10 cities and parts of unincorporated San Mateo County should brace for higher garbage rates this year as a San Francisco firm becomes their first new trash collector in almost three decades.
Prices for some customers are projected to increase by nearly 40 percent after Recology took over service for 92,000 households and 10,000 businesses between Burlingame and East Palo Alto, which officials say is one of the largest garbage-service areas in the country.
The biggest change — and a major reason for the higher costs — is a new weekly schedule for recycling and compost, which had been picked up every other week under previous collector Allied Waste. Allied was passed over in favor of Recology for a 10-year contract serving the joint agency South Bayside Waste Management Authority, which was recently renamed RethinkWaste.
“There’s no more wondering if it’s their week or not, so that’s going to be much easier for everybody,” said Gina Simi, a spokeswoman for Recology, which delivered 440,000 new color-coded carts for garbage, recycling and compost to customers.
Besides more-frequent collection, residents can now put all types of recyclables in a single blue bin and toss food scraps into their green yard-clippings container.
But those upgrades — along with 127 new automated collection trucks, a $47 million rebuild of the authority’s San Carlos processing facility and paying outstanding debts to Allied — are expected to trigger significant rate hikes.
Recology’s service is projected to cost $86.9 million in 2011, compared to an estimated $80.4 million for Allied last year, which means RethinkWaste collectively needs to raise rates by about 15.6 percent.
Each agency approves its garbage rates independently, and the increases could be higher or lower depending on an agency’s reserves and rate history, RethinkWaste spokeswoman Monica Devincenzi said.
In San Mateo, officials are proposing to hike quarterly garbage bills by 23.3 percent, or $9.15, to $48.43 for a typical residential customer with a 32-gallon cart.
The biggest projected hike is in Atherton at 38.5 percent, followed by Hillsborough at 32.1 percent and Foster City at 25.5 percent. Menlo Park, by contrast, has projected an 8.9 percent increase.
The transition to Recology culminates a more than five-year process that put the RethinkWaste contract out to bid for the first time since the agency formed in 1982.
Allied also lost its job running RethinkWaste’s Shoreway facility in San Carlos, which will now be managed by South Bay Recycling.

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