Limiting Garbage Pickup

Published in the Hollister Free Lance, March 15, 1999
Dear Editor:

I'd like to second Rob Bernosky's letter about limited garbage pickup in the March 8 Free Lance. He raised some of the issues I was going to raise at the March 15 City Council meeting. In case I can't attend, I thought I'd list some of them here.

First, let's ask why we're being limited to a single 64-gallon garbage can. According to the February 22 Free Lance, it's to meet a state mandate that garbage going to the landfill be reduced 50% relative to a 1991 baseline. I spoke with Hollister Disposal on March 11, and was told that residential users need approximately 15% more reduction to meet that state goal.

However, the February 22 Free Lance article also cited government figures that said yard waste makes up about 12% of residential garbage, and those figures were confirmed by Hollister Disposal. So providing yard waste (green waste) recycling will almost meet the state requirements without any cut in service.

Of course, green waste recycling isn't free, so who would pay for it? Not surprisingly, according to the Free Lance article, we would -- to the tune of $5.25 per month for bi-weekly green waste pickup. Of course, this fee will discourage people from recycling green waste. It would be easier to dump it down the sewer.

However, I believe there is another way, which leads to my second point. People who can't meet the 64-gallon limit can buy weekly pickup at $8.00 per month for an extra 32-gallon can or $16 per month for another 64-gallon can according to the current plan. Mr. Bernosky wisely asked where that money went.

According to figures from Hollister Disposal, they get about 90% of the standard residential garbage bill ($15.40 out of $17.04), and will probably get that same proportion under the current proposal. Assuming not everyone will be able to meet the 64-gallon limit, Hollister Disposal stands to make a windfall on those extra pickups.

I'm not opposed to a company making money, certainly. In fact, I had no problem with their rate increase, as I stated in my September 1997 letter to the Free Lance. However, given that they stand to make a lot more money while providing essentially the same service they do now, I suggest any money made from excess garbage fees be used to fund a green waste recycling program (and maybe even full curbside recycling). If there's money still left over, then that can be profit for Hollister Disposal.

This leads nicely to my third point. If the goal is to reduce landfill use, just charging more for garbage in excess of 64 gallons won't work. Some people won't be able to make that limit (large families, for example), so this will just be a rate increase for them with no real benefit. The extra charges may induce them to look for ways to recycle, but it doesn't guarantee they will.

People who can afford the extra fees may well just shrug and pay the money. Those who can't, as Dick Lusink suggested in the March 11 Pinnacle, may dump their garbage in the dumpsters of various businesses. Worse, as I mentioned, green waste could be dumped into the sewers.

Sure, there are plans to have some sort of "education program" to help customers reduce garbage output, but the effectiveness of any such campaign seems pretty iffy to me.

The one issue constantly raised is composting, but I personally have little interest in having a stinky box of food scraps in my backyard (although my dogs might like it). Nor do I want green waste sitting around my yard for two weeks only to have to pay $5.25 to have it picked up.

I presume the education will also include discussion of the various recycling facilities in town, but I suspect many people know about them already and don't use them. Other than those, I haven't heard about any other educational topics.

So how do we achieve real garbage reduction? The solution, as I alluded to above, is to provide full curbside recycling.

In San Jose, I used to throw almost everything in the garbage, but when they instituted curbside recycling, it was so easy that I was glad to separate my recyclables. When I moved to Hollister, everything went back into the garbage.

If Hollister had curbside recycling, I think the inconvenience would be so slight that we'd have a real reduction in landfill use. Given the above statistics indicating residential use is about 15% shy of the goal and that yard waste made up 12% of residential garbage, we'd only need full curbside recycling to catch 3% of the residential garbage.

If done like San Jose, that would include newspapers, cardboard, cans, bottles, etc. In fact, since recycling centers pay for those things, Hollister Disposal could pick up the recyclables, take them to a recycling center, and use the money they received to reduce any costs recycling caused.

According to Hollister Disposal, the recycling money they received wouldn't nearly cover the cost, and I believe them. However, if they also used the excess garbage fees as mentioned above, that could be sufficient. Even if those two sources are not sufficient to institute free curbside recycling, there's a third way Hollister Disposal can defray the costs

If the 64-gallon limit is passed by the City Council, we'll get a standard garbage can, and Hollister Disposal is going to retrofit their trucks with an automated system. While there will be an initial up-front cost for these changes, presumably Hollister Disposal will save money in the long run. If those changes would cost the company money, I really doubt they'd be making them.

Those savings can come from several areas. The main one I thought of was that faster pickup (once the drivers get used to the system) will allow one truck to possibly make more runs per day, reducing the number of trucks (and drivers) needed.

When I spoke with Hollister Disposal, they suggested they would also save money on workman's compensation claims (less heavy lifting). There may well be other savings I haven't accounted for, too.

So if you combine the excess garbage fees, recycling fees, and savings from automated trucks, I suspect Hollister Disposal could provide curbside recycling for little or no cost to all Hollister residents.

If Hollister Disposal can't or won't provide curbside recycling, let's get a company that will. While Hollister Disposal's contract with the city gives them the exclusive right to pick up garbage, it does not cover recycling. I confirmed this with Hollister Disposal.

In San Jose, they had four different companies providing recycling services to different parts of the city, so I'm sure we could find one company to do it here. Put a recycling contract out for a competitive bid to ensure we get the lowest cost.

If we have to do that, I'd suggest that the City Council to use the excess garbage fees being charged to those with more than 64 gallons of garbage to pay for the recycling. Hollister Disposal won't lose any money if that money goes to another company (but it will take longer to pay for the automated equipment). That other recycling company can of course keep the recycling fees, which should help them to provide a lower bid.

In conclusion, I urge the City Council to refuse to implement the 64-gallon garbage limit until a curbside recycling program is provided which includes green waste and enough other items to meet the state mandate. I believe that will be the best solution both economically and environmentally.

UPDATE: Hollister did implement garbage limits, but at least added an optional recycling program. They are considering making recycling mandatory.


Want to comment on this? E-mail me at [steve@svpocketpc.com].