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Regulators turn up heat on ‘illegal’ North Bay Corp. recycling site

Regulators appear to be losing patience with Sonoma County’s largest garbage hauler for its continued use of unpermitted Santa Rosa recycling facilities, hiking fines on the company and referring it to the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office for possible prosecution.
Sonoma County health officials are threatening to levy fines of up to $5,000 per day on North Bay Corp. for operating two recycling facilities on Standish Avenue in defiance of a cease-and-desist order that is now nearly 16 months old.
The company argues it would be “an impossibility” to shut down both facilities because it would prevent the company from picking up curbside recycling.
The beefed up enforcement follows an inspection last month by state waste regulators who noted longstanding problems at the facilities and instructed local officials to turn up the heat on the hauler.
Officials at CalRecycle last week said “immediate enforcement action is required” to address the “illegal operations” on the property, warning that “further extensions to cease operation and correct violations are not appropriate.”
Read more at: Regulators turn up heat on ‘illegal’ North Bay Corp. recycling site | The Press Democrat

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Waste Management Sonoma Style Part 2


In Part 1 on Waste Management – Sonoma Style, we looked at how Sonoma County waste management programs are operating currently – more plastics going to landfill since the few remaining centers no longer accept soft plastics as the resale price of plastic has fallen off, glass deposits not collected by residents, so money from broken glass goes to our hauler, The Ratto/North Bay Corporation.

Since our Sonoma Compost facility closed, we now haul our green waste to Marin County to the tune of $4.5 million per year hoping for a new facility within three years, according to Patrick Carter, Executive Director of Sonoma County Waste Management Agency, and an amazing 100 small recycling booths closed last year due to low income – seems we’re on a downward trajectory.  Of course, the low point can also be part of a renewables upcycle.

Pamela Davis, a waste management consultant working with C&S Waste Solutions, sees light at the end of our waste management tunnel through contracting with the best possible hauling services and by choosing to end the use of plastic water bottles. Reaching those two benchmarks, much more recycling will be possible.

It is encouraging that the City of Windsor has set a goal of 50% recycling and its contract for services is out for bid with a new contract that came up in November 2016 while the City of Sonoma uses a different hauler than other Sonoma cities, John Curatto, inventor of The Curatto-Can (claimed to be The Future of Automated Collection). By mounting an automated container to the front forks of hauling trucks, operators can easily spot contaminants that should be removed from the trash stream, according to Curatto. One wonders if the good record of Curatto-Can, recently purchased by Environmental Solutions Group, a division of Dover Corporation, Fort Payne, AL can continue with an out of state home office.


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Santa Rosa garbage firm facing millions in fines

It’s been a rotten couple of months for the region’s largest garbage hauler.
In September, Sonoma County rejected the North Bay Corp.’s request to operate a regional recycling center in Santa Rosa, upping the stakes in the standoff over the company’s unpermitted Standish Avenue facility.
Then earlier this month, Santa Rosa informed the company that it faces $13.4 million in potential fines from years of alleged contract violations.
While neither action is final, combined they illustrate the increasingly uphill and expensive battle North Bay owner Jim Ratto faces as he struggles to keep his garbage and recycling empire intact.
Company officials say Ratto will need to invest at least $4.5 million to upgrade one of North Bay’s two Santa Rosa recycling centers, both of which have operated for more than a year despite a cease-and-desist order from the county Department of Environmental Health.
To date, the county has fined Ratto $496,500 for running facilities that, because more than 10 percent of the material they take in is not recyclable, need a solid waste permit.
The upgrades, expected to begin next month, will force the company to halt operations for several months and haul recyclable material to other counties while the work is completed, said Eric Koenigshofer, vice president of special projects for the company.
“When we’re all done we’ll have a brand new sorting line and that will make a huge difference,” Koenigshofer said.
Read more at: Santa Rosa garbage firm facing millions in fines | The Press Democrat

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Sonoma County’s improving economy means more trash 


CalRecycle spokeswoman Heather Jones said the disposal increase and recycling rate decrease suggested the state needed to continue expanding its recycling infrastructure.

Sonoma County threw away nearly 63,000 tons more trash last year compared with the year before, according to recent figures that indicate the nation’s improving economy hampered local efforts to divert more waste from landfills.
The county disposed of about 386,900 tons of material in 2015, the Sonoma County Waste Management Agency reported last month. That’s an average of 4.3 pounds of waste per person per day, compared to 3.6 pounds per person per day a year earlier.
The latest figures show local waste disposal increased significantly as the economy improved in recent years. The county threw out about 306,100 tons in 2012, and disposal has increased each year since then, according to reports from the waste management agency.
Officials said the disposal uptick was driven by the economic rebound — a factor that fueled a similar increase for the state overall.
As a whole, Californians last year sent 33.2 million tons of material to landfills in 2015, up from 31.2 million tons in 2014, according to the state Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery, or CalRecycle. On a per-resident basis, Californians threw away 4.7 pounds per person per day in 2015, as opposed to 4.5 pounds in 2014. The Sonoma County waste figures do not include recycled or composted material, nor do they encompass hazardous waste or trash generated on tribal land, said Patrick Carter, executive director of the county waste management agency.
Waste disposed at county transfer stations increased to about 278,400 tons in 2015, up about 5,000 tons from 2014, according to Carter. The total county figure also includes waste that originated in Sonoma County but was disposed of elsewhere. Carter said the total increase was likely driven by a better economy, which he said could have resulted in more construction and demolition debris as well as more trash from consumer spending.
“When people have no disposable income, they’re not going to be buying things, and they’re not going to be throwing those things away,” Carter said. “But when they’re making more purchases, either they’re getting rid of their old stuff or they’re getting rid of packaging and things like that.”
Read more at: Sonoma County’s improving economy means more trash | The Press Democrat

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Op-Ed: Reboot, rather than fix California’s outdated recycling law 

It’s still the simplest environmental act a consumer can take in California: Recycle that used bottle or can.
But complex shifts in the global commodities market, aggravated by California’s dated recycling system, have forced the closure of hundreds of recycling centers statewide. State lawmakers have been working, understandably, on a stopgap solution.
Unfortunately, California needs to reboot its entire program.
At issue is the state’s “bottle bill” program, which was enacted in the 1980s when most communities lacked curbside pickup. Though it has served its purpose over the years, even at its outset, it was flawed.
Born from the remnants of a failed 1982 ballot measure that would have given consumers the nickel deposit and in-store take-back that so many other states have, the California law was a political compromise. The aim was to encourage recycling, yes, but it also to control costs for beverage manufacturers and recyclers, and give retailers a way out of the unsanitary and cumbersome chore of in-store redemptions.
The result was a system in which manufacturers of beverage containers paid a “processing fee” to help cover the costs of thousands of recyclers in the event the scrap value of recycled goods didn’t cover their expenses. Consumers got a smaller rebate than in other states, and the savings helped underwrite thousands of recycling centers, most of them in grocery store parking lots.
That sufficed for a while. But over the decades, environmental awareness and waste management mandates have pushed recycling here to whole new levels. Most municipalities now have curbside programs that do the recycling for consumers and keep the rebate. Churches and nonprofits are also lined up to take recyclables off consumers’ hands.
Meanwhile, however, the state’s complex interlocking system of recycling fees and payments has been strained by these and other changes, from curbside gleaning to high U.S. labor costs that cut into private recyclers’ profits. Now global commodity prices have fallen, cutting into the scrap value of aluminum, glass and other recyclable materials.
The result is an outdated and unsustainable infrastructure. As The Sacramento Bee’s Jeremy White has reported, the number of recycling centers statewide has fallen from around 2,100 to fewer than 1,800 in recent years.
Read more at: Reboot, rather than fix California’s outdated recycling law | The Sacramento Bee

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Trash Is getting costly!

I’m old enough to remember before recycling where everything you didn’t want went into the trash can and the local trash service hauled it away…to the dump…a.k.a. landfill which describes a hole or valley everything got dumped into until it filled up.
Then recycling came along and we sorted our trash by category and felt good knowing it would have a second life. Trash men would throw the contents of our bins into trash/recycling trucks divided into categories.  “Single stream” came along about the same time trash trucks were designed to pick up trash mechanically…no people jumping off and on the truck as it rolled down the road. Recycling now gets sorted at the facility owned by the trash company – not us sorting it at home.
We trust our trash service to take care of what we throw away. We complain when they raise our rates, but out-of-sigh…out-of-mind applies here.
Several Sonoma County cities have contracts with local provider Ratto Group – known as North Bay Corp., or Redwood Empire Disposal, and other names depending upon the city it serves.  They are known for their low rates, but also for their less-than-ideal service as well. Sometimes the two go hand-in hand.
“When a complaint was made to the State, late last year, Sonoma County Environmental Health did an inspection of North Bay Corp recycling facility, and issued a Cease and Desist order after finding the facility out of compliance and lacking the appropriate permits.
The Cease and Desist order, issued last fall, was intended to shut down the North Bay Corp. recycling facility on Standish Avenue where all North Bay Corp. affiliates deliver single stream, or blue can materials. For years, the facility skirted the requirement for a Solid Waste Facility Permit by claiming that the residual, or contamination level, was under 10%. But following the complaint, the subsequent inspection determined that nearly 30% of the incoming material was garbage, and not recycling.
The company continues to receive daily fines as they seek to legalize their operations on Standish Avenue.
More recently, the Santa Rosa deputy city manager hired R3 Consulting Group to do a Performance Review of North Bay Corporation, and what they found revealed problems company-wide.
Read more at: Trash Is Getting Costly!

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Hundreds of California recycling centers close – what now?

Blue bins piled high with gleaming cans and pink plastic bags bulging with plastic jugs snaked up to the recycling center outside a Foods Co. on a recent Wednesday morning, with customers lined up to cash in their containers.
A homeless man named Aaron Viramontes said he stops by two to three times a week in search of cash. Another customer who arrived in a minivan loaded with boxes full of bottles said he always brings his empties to the center – “I paid for it in the store,” he noted, “so I should get my money back.”
But completing that transaction could get tougher. The company that runs the facility, RePlanet, has already closed scores of California locations amid a financial crunch that has gotten the attention of policymakers in Sacramento. Nearby centers had already stopped accepting items, and some customers had noticed.
“The question is, where would we recycle” if the closures continue? said John Viernes, a 29-year-old physical therapist who said he got into the habit of bringing his cans and bottles to recycling centers in Hawaii, where “the soil is sacred.” “It would be tough.”
The shuttering of hundreds of recycling centers around California has reduced opportunities to cash in bottles and cans while stirring anxiety for grocery store owners who may be forced to start accepting reusable materials themselves. As interest groups press policymakers for a solution, the situation has again illuminated the ongoing challenges facing California’s labyrinthine recycling system.
“This is a crisis for consumers who aren’t going to be able to get their money back on the containers they’ve purchased,” said Californians Against Waste executive director Mark Murray, “it’s a crisis of the stores who aren’t fond of taking containers back inside the store, and it’s a crisis for recycling centers who want to be in the business of taking back containers but can’t make it work in this financial market.”
Read more at: Hundreds of California recycling centers close – what now? | The Sacramento Bee

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Audit slams Santa Rosa garbage company management 

An auditor hired by Santa Rosa to analyze the performance of the region’s largest garbage hauler has issued a scathing critique of the company’s management, recycling efforts, customer service and safety record.
The 42-page audit concluded that North Bay Corp. is in violation of numerous terms of its franchise agreement, the lucrative contract that gives it the exclusive right to collect garbage, recycling and yard waste from nearly 50,000 homes and businesses in the city.
The alleged violations, which could lead to substantial financial penalties for the Santa Rosa-based firm owned by James Ratto, include operating a fleet of aging garbage trucks, not recycling to minimum levels, operating an unpermitted, rat-infested recycling facility and failing to answer customers’ calls promptly.
The shortcomings are so significant that city staff will be recommending the City Council not extend the company’s lucrative contract for another five years after 2017, and instead reopen it to competitive bidding.
“I would not recommend (extension) to council because they are so far out of compliance,” said Gloria Hurtado, deputy city manager.
Company officials said they were surprised by the conclusions in the audit and question its accuracy, saying they were not given enough time to respond before the audit was released to the public.The company said it plans to issue a detailed response by June 21, before the City Council takes up the issue July 12.
Read more at: Audit slams Santa Rosa garbage company management | The Press Democrat

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New compost site scrapped at Sonoma County’s Central Landfill 

After nine years and $1 million of study, Sonoma County waste officials say they’re abandoning plans to build a new composting facility at the county landfill west of Cotati.
The Sonoma County Waste Management Agency announced Monday that as part of a legal settlement with landfill neighbors, it would no longer pursue the green waste project, pegged at up to $55 million.
“This is not, I think, government’s proudest moment,” said Don Schwartz, Rohnert Park assistant city manager and an agency board member. “On the other hand, it’s better to spend $1 million than $50 million and not have a good solution.”
Under terms of the settlement, the neighbors will dismiss their lawsuit if the agency votes next month to rescind certification of the environmental report for the project and other documents related to the Central Landfill site.
The decision, which won’t be finalized until an agency board meeting next month, marks the second time in a year that neighbors have successfully blocked a composting operation at the Mecham Road landfill.
Read more at: New compost site scrapped at Sonoma County’s Central Landfill | The Press Democrat

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Recycling centers shut down in Sonoma County

Craig Butcher used to be able to just drive down the street from his Rincon Valley home to a recycling center behind the Safeway on Calistoga Road.
It was so convenient, the retired Santa Rosa Junior College instructor would even throw his neighbors’ plastic and glass bottles and aluminum cans into the back of his truck to ensure they stayed out of the landfill and to earn a little extra money to boot.
But at the end of last month, the company that ran the center, Ontario-based RePlanet, suddenly closed 191 centers around the state, including 17 of its 19 centers in Sonoma County.
The company, the largest private recycling operation of its kind in the state, cited higher operating costs, lower state subsidies and lower prices for bulk recycling on the commodities market as the reasons it scrapped so many recycling centers.
Now Butcher, 73, has to drive across town to the sole remaining RePlanet location in Santa Rosa in the G&G Market parking lot on West College Avenue.
“You want to do the right thing, then all of a sudden the way to do the right thing disappears,” Butcher said.The closure of the majority of RePlanet locations, some of which go by the name Nexcycle, leaves a gaping hole in the county’s recycling network.
Read more at: Recycling centers shut down in Sonoma County | The Press Democrat