A request from Recology Del Norte to consider raising trash service rates in response to changes in the recycling market came as a surprise Tuesday for some Del Norte County Solid Waste Management Authority board members.

Despite trying to brainstorm ways to reduce the level of garbage in the local recycling stream since December 2016, including considering a 96-gallon standard trash service, Solid Waste Management Authority Board Chair, Crescent City Mayor Blake Inscore said discussing a potential rate increase “changes the entire conversation.”

“I wasn’t anticipating in our discussions that we were going to get dropped with a request for a rate increase,” said Inscore, who has been part of an ad-hoc committee, along with Solid Waste Commissioner Eli Naffah, tasked with finding ways to curtail contamination in the recycling stream. “I thought we were moving (forward) with some discussions and now we’ve been put in a position where we’ve been asked to raise rates and that changes the conversation dramatically and in some ways, it may set us back of trying to have these conversations.”

Solid Waste Management Authority Director Tedd Ward said there will be no changes to anyone’s rates or services unless the authority board approves a change order to the franchise agreement with Recology Del Norte.

Saying changes to the recycling market are costing his company more than $300,000 annually, Jeremy Herber, general manager of Recology Del Norte, asked the Del Norte Solid Waste Management Authority Board to consider increasing trash rates by 6.12 percent.

Herber cited a new policy in China severely limiting the amount of contamination in recycling markets it imports as one reason his costs have gone up. Another reason stems from the closure of Julindra Recycling, which processed Del Norte’s recyclables until it terminated its contract with Recology in January 2017.

“Basically we’re trying to do bare bones here,” Herber told the Solid Waste board. “We’re not asking for any operating ratios, we’re just trying to get through this. The impact’s pretty significant for us and the costs have hurt us. We’re asking the community to hopefully help us get to where we can continue to function.”

In a Sept. 14 letter to the Solid Waste Management Authority, Herber said additional expenses Recology Del Norte has incurred since Julindra terminated its contract include $40,784 to rent a warehouse to transfer mixed recycling and process cardboard; $97,740 in trucking costs to transport recycling to the Recology Humboldt processing facility in Samoa; and $135,253 to process the material at the plant in Samoa.

According to Herber, Recology Del Norte would also have to pay $30,420 more in franchise fees to the Del Norte Solid Waste Management Authority if the proposed rate increase were approved and it received the $273,777 in additional costs it’s seeking to recoup.

The additional revenue of $304,197 would cover Recology Del Norte’s basic costs, Herber said. He said he has had to rent additional space, hire more staff, buy a wheel loader and remove cardboard by hand sending Del Norte’s recyclables to the Samoa processing facility. Removing the cardboard reduces the amount Recology Del Norte is charged per ton to process the material in Samoa, according to Herber.

“The cardboard sometimes, because of the contamination, gets wet, which adds tonnage,” Herber said. “If I can pull it out — because we’re trying to process what we can in Del Norte County — we pull out as much cardboard that we’re reasonably able to do so. If it’s just too contaminated, it goes.”

After uttering “ouch” in response to Herber’s request, Del Norte County Supervisor Chris Howard asked if Recology Del Norte would adjust rates down if the recycling market in China changes.

Herber said that issue, as well as the requested rate increase, would need to be discussed in the authority’s ad-hoc committee.

Howard’s colleague, Supervisor Lori Cowan, said Herber’s request for a rate increase didn’t surprise her. She noted the Solid Waste Authority board has been discussing the issue for nearly two years, including visiting the Recology Humboldt recycling plant in Samoa last year. Though previous requests from Recology Del Norte to make changes to local curbside trash service haven’t included such a large potential rate increase, if implemented, they would have changed rates, Cowan said.

“I’ve been looking at this all along, just waiting for something to happen,” she said. “I just feel like we’re moving at a slow pace. Now it’s coming to a head and I feel like now we’re being pushed. We’ve got to do this. Well, I felt like we had to do this a year ago, two years ago.”

According to Herber, the local recycling stream currently has a contamination rate of 13-18 percent, higher than the industry standard of 10 percent. Unmanned community recycling bins have a contamination rate of 35-50 percent, Herber said, with the bin near the Smith River post office being the worst offender.

Reach Jessica Cejnar at jcejnar@triplicate.com .