Saturday, February 5, 2011

Update from the front lines

Trusty correspondent Yvonne files this report from the Trashbasher Bay Area Bureau on new trash and organics collection service, which has been going on for one month, by Recology in San Mateo County (Calif.):

"So remember how I said our trash collection price didn't go up? I heard from other people who opted for the bigger cans that theirs did, a lot. Maybe that'll help them sort their trash better!!"

I asked if she told them that they could save money by opting for the small cart if they produced less trash.

"Yes, I told them, but they didn't really seem to care that much. Maybe they'll think about it more later though. I hope so!"

And what is her weekly trash for a family of 2 adults, 4 kids and 1 dog? Half a grocery bag. Nicely done!!

All the City Councils appear to be backing the collection rate increases.

From Half Moon Bay Patch:
Half Moon Bay's rate increase appears to be the most modest in comparison to other cities in San Mateo County that have raised their rates or are proposing to raise their rates in the near future.

Last night, the Foster City City Council unanimously approved a 29.5% rate hike. Burlingame's City Council considered a garbage rate increase of 17% last night. And on Jan. 10, Redwood City raised their garbage rates by 18%. Atherton, San Mateo and Menlo Park are among other cities proposing rate increases as well.

Other news stories:
From the Daily Journal
Garbage complaints in San Mateo County down
January 20, 2011, 02:51 AM By Michelle Durand Daily Journal Staff

Peninsula garbage customers are logging fewer complaints about missed pickups and other snafus with new provider Recology but some are also voicing frustration with a recent spate of double-digit service rate hikes, according to the overseeing agency.
The call volume is substantially down now over the first few weeks when customers lit up the phones at the South Bayside Waste Management Authority, said spokeswoman Monica Devincenzi.

SBWMA is the 12-agency joint powers authority that contracts with Recology on behalf of its members including Belmont, Burlingame, East Palo Alto, Foster City, Menlo Park, Redwood City, San Carlos, San Mateo, Atherton, Hillsborough, San Mateo County and the West Bay Sanitary District.

Exact call numbers were not immediately available but Devincenzi said the majority are more inquiries about types of programs rather than specific issues.

“It is all greatly improved since the rollout,” she said.

The phone lines at San Mateo County’s Health System, which were also busy in the first few weeks of the year because of disgruntled customers, are also quiet.

The county is no longer receiving any calls or complaints about collections services, said Health System spokeswoman Robyn Thaw.

A Recology representative did not respond to an inquiry about its phone traffic.

Devincenzi said some calls after Recology began its contract Jan. 1 were not unexpected even though both it and the SBWMA tried to head off problems with community workshops and public outreach.

Recology took over from Allied Waste, ending its 10-year contract and bringing new collection carts and schedules.
At the same time, cities and member agencies belonging to SBWMA began notifying customers of, and in some cases already voting on, garbage rate increases including some as high as 38.9 percent.

Although some of customers have questioned why increases are being asked at the same time service has been in question, the timing is coincidental.

Customers may also not fully realize the rate increase components include items not specifically tied to the Recology contract such as paying out Allied’s final bill and tip fees at the Ox Mountain landfill.

From the San Francisco Sentinel:

Recology San Mateo County update on collection services rollout progress: Reduced volumes, increased driver familiarity and proper cart set-out aiding in improved service

13 January 2011
SAN CARLOS, CA — Recology San Mateo County is reporting today that drivers are fully completing their routes and coming in closer to expected completion times as they become more familiar with the new routes, equipment, and as volumes decrease after the holiday season. Assisting this effort is the improvement in proper cart set outs by residents in the RethinkWaste service area.

“While our call volumes remain high, today’s levels are down approximately 20% from yesterday and the call queue is currently open with Customer Service Representatives awaiting calls,” said Mario Puccinelli, General Manager, Recology. “Recology is continuing to allocate extra resources to the call center and in the field, running additional trucks to respond to any service inquiries that arise.”

The company also reports that the characteristics of the calls have changed dramatically and are more focused on program information rather than service related concerns or issues.

“Our customer service representatives have updated the records of more than 3,000 customers to date to ensure that proper service is provided,” said Puccinelli. “This work will greatly reduce future service issues and will allow us to provide quality service to our customers.”

RethinkWaste has reported positive recycling percentages since the roll out of the CartSMART program.

“Recycling percentages remain high, an increase of 31% from the same period last year,” said Kevin McCarthy, Executive Director, RethinkWaste. “This exceeds the expected increases due to the introduction of the new CartSMART program.”

While the company is still improving its performance, it is asking the cooperation from its customers in two very important ways. First, Recology is asking customers to inform them of any issues or special instructions, if they have not already done so, in order for them to update their customer database and ensure that Recology is providing the proper level of service. Secondly, it is asking customers to set the carts out properly, wheels against the curb with 2-foot spacing between them and away from obstructions like vehicles and/or fixed structures.

“We are continuing to address service issues as they occur. However, the second week of service is proving to be better than the first,” said Puccinelli. “We will not be satisfied until our customers are. We are committed to putting the full resources of the Company to bear on solving any outstanding issues.”

About Recology San Mateo County

Recology San Mateo County was chosen in 2008 by RethinkWaste to provide Recycle, Compost and Garbage collection services for its 12 Member Agencies. Recology’s roots in recycling go back to 1920 in San Francisco, when garbage men, known then as “scavengers,” actively sought out alternative uses for refuse. Recology is now the largest employee owned company in the solid waste industry, parent to three dozen subsidiaries that provide solid waste services to more than 100 communities, and serves more than 600,000 residential and 80,000 commercial customers. Recology recycling facilities serve as national models, and the company is known as a pioneer in waste reduction, often exploring new technologies to facilitate landfill diversion. For more information, please visit

About RethinkWaste

Formed in 1982, RethinkWaste is a joint powers authority comprised of 12 Member Agencies (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) in San Mateo County and is a leader in implementing innovative waste reduction and recycling programs. RethinkWaste also owns and manages the Shoreway facility in San Carlos consisting of a permitted solid waste transfer station and a recycling processing facility. The Agency’s legal name is the South Bayside Waste Management Authority (SBWMA.) For more information on RethinkWaste, please visit our website at

Foster City joins trash-rate-hike club

By Elizabeth Pfeffer For the San Mateo County Times
San Jose Mercury News (California)
January 22, 2011
Foster City is among the latest mid-Peninsula cities to raise garbage rates since a new company took over collection for 92,000 San Mateo County households.

The City Council last week unanimously approved a 29.5 percent increase that will drive up the collection fee for a 32-gallon bin from $13.73 to $17.72 per month. The new rate goes into effect Feb. 1.

Of the 12 member agencies in the South Bayside Waste Management Authority -- the joint agency that made the switch to new trash collector Recology -- Belmont, Burlingame, East Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Redwood City and San Mateo County have now approved rate hikes similar to Foster City's, according to the authority.

Foster City residents received state-mandated warnings about the potential change before the council's vote Tuesday, and the response was minimal, officials said. Garbage has become a sensitive issue, however, since Recology got off to a shaky start at the beginning of the year, missing pickups at many homes and eliciting thousands of customer complaints.

Foster City Councilwoman Pam Frisella said that, once the kinks with Recology are worked out, it will be better than previous garbage company Allied Waste.

"People just have to be patient," she said. "Recology is fantastic."

With the increase, Foster City still has some of the lowest garbage bills in the county. Redwood City, for example, raised its rate for a 32-gallon bin -- the most commonly used size -- to nearly $25.

The new system is meant to improve waste management with more frequent pickups and easier disposal of recyclables and organic materials.

Still, Recology and the cities it serves have been inundated with complaints.

Recology spokesman Adam Alberti said the number of calls has gone down since the start of the year from an average of 5,000 per day to 2,000.

"That's a pretty high call volume, but it's a lot less, and the characteristics of the calls are different," he said. "Most calls we receive now really are related to how the program works."

Alberti attributed the challenging start to three things: The week service began was the busiest waste week of the year; routes changed; and drivers had to worker harder to manually lift bins that hadn't been set out on the curb correctly.

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