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New compost site scrapped at Sonoma County’s Central Landfill 

Kevin McCallum, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
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

Kevin McCallum, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
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

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Rural roads in Sonoma County becoming dumping ground

Julie Johnson, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
With a loud thump heard across their Piner Road property, the Gaddis family this week received another set of unwelcome roadside ornaments: Two moldy mattresses, a box spring and several bottles of MuscleMilk and E&J brandy.
The discarded beds — grass already growing from the ripped seams — joined another pair of damp and darkened mattresses dropped about 20 yards down the secluded road on the western outskirts of Santa Rosa.
“How would you feel?” said Gaddis, whose husband’s family started Gaddis Nursery in 1926. “You have pride in your home, and someone dumps an old mattress out front.”
The Piner Road property and other rural roads in Sonoma County have become a dumping ground for scofflaws who discard beds, refrigerators, furniture and other large unwanted items — even boats — and drive away.
The problem is so bad that county road staff can easily list from memory the most notorious spots favored by illegal dumpers.
“They’re all over the county. It’s everywhere,” said Janine Crocker, a staffer with the Sonoma County roads department.
Most Fridays, a Sonoma County probation crew drives around collecting large items discarded illegally along the county’s picturesque rural roads.
Read more at: Rural roads in Sonoma County becoming dumping ground | The Press Democrat

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'Closed Loop Fund' seeks to improve recycling infrastructure

David Gelles, THE NEW YORK TIMES
The recycling industry has a dirty little secret: Much of the plastic that consumers diligently sort is never actually recycled. Instead, some of those yogurt containers, translucent takeout boxes and bottle caps are buried in landfills or incinerated.
The issue isn’t a lack of demand for this recycled plastic — specifically items with codes No. 3 through No. 7. Big companies like Johnson & Johnson and Procter & Gamble, hoping to burnish their environmental credentials, can’t get their hands on enough of it.
Instead, the problem is infrastructure. Most recycling facilities simply aren’t sophisticated enough to collect, sort, clean and process these plastics and still turn a profit.
The uneven market for postconsumer plastics is just one of the handicaps of the recycling industry, which remains underdeveloped despite decades of public education and investment. Bigger obstacles include the absence of demand for mixed glass, and persistently low recycling rates for everything but paper.
But a new $100 million fund is aiming to move the needle on these issues, starting with those hard-to-recycle plastics.
Founded last year, the Closed Loop Fund provides no-interest loans to cities and below-market-rate loans to companies that want to build recycling infrastructure. What’s surprising is the source of the fund’s cash. Nine big companies including Procter & Gamble, PepsiCo, 3M and Coca-Cola have committed $5 million to $10 million each. More recycling, the companies say, is in their interest too.
Read more at: Big Companies Put Their Money Where the Trash Is – The New York Times

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Sonoma County garbage company tightens recycling rules 

Kevin McCallum, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Recycling Guides for Sonoma and Marin Counties.

Here’s a quick recycling quiz:
Which of the following items are appropriate to put in local blue recycling bins?
A. Pizza boxes
B. Clean shredded paper
C. Consolidated plastic bags
D. Coffee cup tops bearing a triangular recyclable symbol
The correct answer is: None of above.
Sonoma County’s dominant waste hauler is struggling to clean up its single-stream recycling program, and it’s tightening the rules on what is — and what is not — recyclable material.
For years North Bay Corp. has been hesitant to enforce recycling guidelines, urging residents to err on the side of recycling, said Lou Ratto, chief operating officer for the Ratto Group of Companies, parent company of the Santa Rosa garbage hauler.

“Five years ago, we told people if you don’t know whether it’s recyclable, put it in the recycling bin,” Ratto said. “Now, if you don’t know whether it’s recyclable, put it in the garbage.”

The company is under strict orders to get the amount of garbage in its recycling stream — known as residuals — below 10 percent, the maximum it is allowed to have under state law at its Santa Rosa recycling facilities on Standish Avenue.

Read more at: Sonoma County garbage company tightens recycling rules | The Press Democrat

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Recycler fined for garbage-filled Santa Rosa centers

Kevin McCallum, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The company has blamed people who throw garbage into recycling bins for the excessive waste material contaminating its recycling stream. They say the trend toward smaller garbage bins, which are less expensive, has exacerbated the problem.

Sonoma County health officials have begun fining the region’s largest waste hauler for failing to clean up the garbage that is accumulating at its Santa Rosa recycling centers.
The county this week accused the North Bay Corp. of violating the cease and desist order it issued against the company Aug. 28.
The order instructs the company to immediately stop hauling recyclable material contaminated with garbage to its recycling facilities on Standish Avenue without the proper permits.
North Bay officials last week submitted a plan for cleaning up its operations, which includes seeking the proper permits, public education, encouraging employees to report violations, and sending contaminated waste to another facility in Petaluma and ultimately out of the county.
But the county cited “significant shortcomings” with the plan, and began issuing fines against the company of $250 per day after Aug. 28 and $500 per day after Sept. 12. That amounts to $6,750 in fines to date. The fines ramp up from there, increasing to $1,500 per day beginning Oct. 1, $3,000 beginning Nov. 1, and $5,000 beginning Dec. 1.
Read more at: Recycler fined for garbage-filled Santa Rosa centers | The Press Democrat

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Sonoma County tells waste hauler North Bay Corp. to clean up trash piles

Kevin McCallum, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

North Bay Corp. representatives have made no secret of the challenges they face from people putting garbage in blue recycling bins. They told county inspectors that about 50 percent of the material being collected in the curbside bins is non-recyclable.

Sonoma County’s health department has issued a cease and desist order against a Santa Rosa recycling center over the large piles of trash that have been accumulating at its Santa Rosa facility.

The county Department of Health Services issued the Aug. 28 order against North Bay Corp., a division of the Ratto Group, the county’s dominant waste hauler, for two recycling sites on opposite sides of Standish Avenue just south of the city.

The order stems from a complaint the county received early last month that the company was operating an illegal solid waste facility. Officials investigated and found massive piles of garbage inside buildings and uncovered outside.

Recycling facilities in the state are allowed to operate without the stringent regulations on solid waste facilities as long as three conditions exist, explained Christine Sosko, the county’s environmental health and safety director. Material must be separated for reuse; no more than 1 percent of that waste can be “putrescible,” or prone to rotting; and no more than 10 percent can be “residual waste,” meaning anything that’s not recyclable — essentially garbage.

Inspectors, after visiting the sites and consulting with the operators, found that a facility at 3400 Standish Ave., Empire Recycling, was processing 21 percent garbage, while a North Bay Corp. facility across the street at 3417 Standish was processing 27 percent garbage, according to the order.

Inspectors noted birds and rats crawling across mounds of recyclables and garbage 12 feet deep and piles of tires intending for recycling. Recycled material and garbage also had been pushed together, and broken areas of concrete made it difficult to clean surfaces, Sosko said.

If the problems aren’t cleared up, North Bay Corp. could be hit with fines for violating the solid waste permit rules, which the county is required to enforce on behalf of CalRecycle, the state waste agency. The county can levy fines of up to $5,000 per day, Sosko said.

Source: Sonoma County tells waste hauler North Bay Corp. | The Press Democrat

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Sonoma County approves plans for new compost facility

Angela Hart, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Just as Sonoma County’s largest compost company readies to shut down its operations atop the Central Landfill on Mecham Road west of Cotati, county waste officials are ramping up plans to construct a more robust composting site — a new multimillion-dollar facility expected to alleviate environmental pollution issues that have long plagued the current operation.

The future of green waste in Sonoma County reached a turning point Wednesday, when the Sonoma County Waste Management Agency board voted unanimously to require the new facility be built at the county’s 400-acre Central Landfill, just west of the current composting site run by Sonoma Compost, a private company.

“We’re moving forward, and we want to keep our compost local,” said Supervisor Shirlee Zane, who represents the county on waste-related matters. “This is going to ensure it stays local for our farmers and gardeners.”

The county rejected an alternative site on Stage Gulch Road, concluding that the Central Landfill location had fewer negative environmental impacts.

Read more at: Sonoma County approves plans for new compost facility

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Sonoma County compost operations must end by mid-October 

Angela Hart, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A hard-fought battle over a Clean Water Act lawsuit — costing ratepayers more than $1.1 million — has spelled the end for Sonoma County’s largest compost producer, Sonoma Compost Co.
Under a settlement reached late Thursday night, Sonoma Compost must shut down operations atop the Central Landfill on Mecham Road west of Cotati by Oct. 15.
“We’re extremely disappointed and frustrated,” said Alan Seigle, who founded Sonoma Compost with his partner Will Bakx in 1993. “We feel horrible for our employees and the citizens of Sonoma County. This is going to have a huge impact all of our customers — particularly the agricultural community and small-scale farmers.”
The lawsuit, brought by Roger Larsen, a resident of the Happy Acres subdivision near the landfill, alleged Sonoma Compost was polluting the nearby Stemple Creek for years. State water regulators confirmed the composting operation had violated the Clean Water Act, and rainwater catchment ponds on the site overflowed at least twice during the last rainy season, contaminating the creek. Regulators threatened the county with fines of $10,000 a day.
The deal, finalized Friday , means the composting site will be gone by October — in time for the rainy season — alleviating the potential that rainwater will hit compost heaps and pollute the creek below. The agreement settles the lawsuit between Sonoma County, the Sonoma County Waste Management Agency and residents who filed suit under a group called Renewed Efforts of Neighbors Against Landfill Expansion, representing about 100 households in the neighborhood.
“I’m very happy the pollution will stop; that’s what the lawsuit was all about,” Larsen said, though he expressed reservations about a potential new composting site.
Read more at: Sonoma County compost operations must end by mid-October | The Press Democrat

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Garbage hauler Ratto Group seeking rate hike to cover recycling losses

Kevin McCallum, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Sonoma County’s dominant garbage and recycling company is seeking temporary rate increases of about $1 per month to offset what it says are millions in expected losses from its troubled recycling business.
The Ratto Group is trying to convince local leaders to allow the company to boost garbage rates between 4 percent and 10 percent for its 145,000 residential and commercial accounts in eight Sonoma County cities and the unincorporated county areas.
Though the increase is small, it comes on the heels of a significant rate hike in April related to the recent takeover of the county landfill by Republic Services.If approved, the various increases would raise more than $4.5 million in additional revenue for the company, money it says it desperately needs because the bottom has fallen out of the market for recycled materials.
“We need a little help for a year,” said Eric Koenigshofer, the former county supervisor who represents the company. “Something has happened outside of our community that has had a very significant impact on the financial arrangements we have for providing services to our community.”
The move is in response to what the company says are three major challenges facing its recycling programs.
One is the deeply depressed pricing worldwide for bulk recycled materials, such as the huge bundles of mixed paper, crushed soda cans and cardboard the company ships overseas.
Another is shipping challenges caused by major disruptions at West Coast ports, particularly Oakland. The huge backlog of material created by the work stoppages prevents delivery overseas and depresses prices further. The company’s recycling facilities are literally overflowing with mountains of recycled material that it can’t ship until the logjam is cleared.
Finally, there has been a marked increase in people thoughtlessly contaminating the recycling stream with raw garbage. The problem is more than a little peanut butter stuck to the side of a jar or cheese clinging to the top of the cardboard pizza boxes, company officials said.
Read more at: Garbage hauler Ratto Group seeking rate hike to | The Press Democrat