Even though the level of garbage in the local recycling stream has decreased, the contamination rate is not where it needs to be and likely won’t be without further steps, Recology Del Norte’s general manager said Tuesday.

Staff with the Del Norte Solid Waste Management Authority presented the board of commissioners with nine potential options for reducing trash contamination in the recycling stream. This included a new option that would issue bags to people for any overflow trash that didn’t fit in their cart and would automatically bump someone to a 60-gallon garbage service if they were found with trash in their recycling container.

Crescent City mayor and board authority Chair Blake Inscore said he came up with the idea of issuing overflow bags, but the idea wasn’t to charge people for the extra bags.

“I looked at it from a standpoint of a label and that for a customer that has service, every year you get couple of extra pickups of a bag,” he said. “That doesn’t make anybody any money, but it may address the problem of contamination. If we’re charging them the rate they’re already being charged to buy the bag, I can tell you what’s going to happen with that, nothing.”

With Director Tedd Ward telling the authority board he’s hoping they’ll take action to reduce contamination by its September meeting, four commissioners agreed to continue to discuss and potentially refine the concept of bags for overflow trash. Commissioner Eli Naffah was absent.

State of recycling

Recology Del Norte has collected the community’s recycling for 30 years. Its current franchise contract with the Del Norte Solid Waste Management Authority went into effect July 2011 and is expected to expire June 30, 2023.

Over the past seven years, Recology Del Norte has worked well within the parameters of its contract, said General Manager Jeremy Herber. However when local processor Julindra Recycling terminated its contract with Recology on Jan. 1, 2017, the curbside collector was forced to find a place that would accept Del Norte’s recyclables within about 30 days.

Recology Del Norte began taking local recyclable material to the Humboldt Waste Management Authority in Eureka. But HWMA required a contamination rate of 10 percent or less. When Recology Del Norte signed a processing agreement with Recology Humboldt, which has a recycling plant on the Samoa peninsula, the contract still stipulated a contamination rate of 10 percent or less, Herber said.

“We’ve been shipping out three loads a week, 52 weeks a year,” he told the Solid Waste Management Authority board. “We’re consistently getting three loads out of here.”

In addition to being required to reduce its contamination rate, another big change since Julindra terminated its contract with Recology Del Norte is China’s National Sword policy, which further limits the amount of contamination in recyclable commodities that country imports.

According to Herber, every waste hauler in the U.S., including Recology Del Norte, is charged a processing fee. He said there are also fees associated with transporting the material to Samoa.

When Recology Del Norte’s current contract with the Solid Waste Management Authority went into effect in 2011, approximately 85 percent of the recyclables it collected had a market value, Herber said. Now, about 41 percent is marketable, he said.

There’s also a new state law, Assembly Bill 1826, that requires nearly 75 percent of recyclable materials to be diverted from the waste stream, Herber said.

“Julindra, when we originally signed the agreement, we took the material to them for free. They processed it, they kept the profits and that’s where it went,” Herber said. “What’s changed is we’ve got trucking and processing fees, we had to have an additional building rental and had to hire an additional person to manage the product.”

He said Recology does process some cardboard in Del Norte County, but most of it is sent to the Samoa plant.

Herber also noted China also isn’t buying up any recycled paper currently. He said Recology has good relationships with other East Asian markets and are getting orders for recycled paper. But at its peak, the company would receive $205 per ton of recycled paper. As of last week, it received $4 per ton.

“It’s not just Del Norte that has this problem or just the state of California, it’s a nationwide problem,” Herber said. “Everybody’s addressing this. It’s up to me to be transparent with this community, with this board, to let (you) know that it’s not just hurting us, it’s hurting others, too.”

Following Herber’s presentation, commissioner and county Supervisor Lori Cowan asked if Del Norte County is the only community in Northern California that has a contamination problem. She pointed to a tour of the Samoa processing plant she and other commissioners took last year and noted that Eureka’s contamination level in its recycling stream was less than 4 percent.

Herber said other communities are struggling with contamination as well.

“But they’re also addressing those the same way we are,” Herber said. “Remarkably enough our contamination has dropped noticeably. Is it where it needs to be? No. I don’t think we can get any further without other steps.”

Other steps

Most of the proposed options had gone before the Solid Waste Authority board before. These included increasing enforcement, offering incentives, eliminating unstaffed community drop off bins, issuing a 60-gallon trash cart minimum for households of 4 or more, having a 90-gallon standard trash cart for all customers and instituting universal collection service.

Ward called the option to issue bags for overflow trash and automatically bump anyone who puts trash in their recycling cart to 60-gallon garbage service a soft transition. This addressed those who felt like they were being punished and forced into paying for a service they didn’t need, he said, while focusing on people who were the problem.

“If they continue to put trash in their recycling they get one warning and after that warning if there’s a second infraction, they automatically get bumped up to the 60 gallon cart forever,” Ward said. “It’s a way of saying, very emphatically, we’re very serious — no trash in the recycling.”

However, Cowan pointed out purchasing an extra bag would add $8 to a person’s $27 monthly fee for 30-gallon trash service when a 60 service is $37.

“You’re only saving four bucks,” she said.

Herber noted if they use two overflow bags, a customer will pay more than the 60 gallon service.

Cowan said such an option would show customers that would regularly need an overflow bag that they’d save more money if they had the 60-gallon service.

Inscore, however, said his idea was for Recology to offer a specified number of labels to their customers on an annual basis for free as an incentive. If people are charged for them, nothing will change, he said.

Herber said he liked Inscore’s idea, but the bags Recology sells are identifiable and are able to hand 40 pounds of garbage. He said he was concerned that a light-weight bag could tear and a label or sticker could get blown off or removed.

“I like the idea so people who are doing the right thing are not being penalized,” Herber said. “I love the idea, I’m just trying to figure out how to manage it.”

Commissioner and Crescent City Councilor Jason Greenough also noted if the solid waste board is trying to give people a chance to change their behavior, if they do better, maybe they can appeal a decision to institute a larger trash cart.

“If they have the 30-gallon garbage can and they did something to make you upgrade them to a 60, maybe after a year of good recycling, they can appeal that and possibly go back down to the 30,” Greenough said. “I’m not too big on the permanent, you’re never going to be able to do garbage service again or you’re always going to have the 60 (gallon service).”

Northern Transfer Station

In other matters, the board authorized SWMA staff to draft a request for proposals for professional services to identify potential properties north of Dr. Fine Bridge for a small volume transfer station.

This transfer station would serve the communities of Fort Dick, Smith River and the Tolowa Dee-ni’ Nation.

Ward said the site selection process would involve identifying them, listing and mapping them and then presenting a short list to the solid waste board. The board would then select three properties and solid waste’s legal counsel would negotiate the right of first refusal on those properties, help with finding an engineer in the design of the transfer station and the completion of environmental documents, according to Ward.

“One of the advantages of this strategy is that previously when we were trying to locate the Del Norte County transfer station, after we got through the permitting process to a certain point it became really clear where the transfer station was going to be located and the purchase price went up significantly,” Ward said. “The negotiating a right of first refusal on three properties allows us to have a predictable cost and select a property without that cost changing as we’re doing the environmental review.”

Ward also noted while community recycling bins in Smith River continue to have a high contamination level, building a northern transfer station won’t address those concerns. He said the community’s struggles with garbage in the recycling stream is a more urgent issue and must be addressed before the northern transfer station is developed.

Proposals for the work to identify and assess potential properties for the transfer station will be presented at the solid waste board’s meeting in October.

Reach Jessica Cejnar at jcejnar@triplicate.com .