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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

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Recovery facility approved for Sonoma County landfill

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

By approving development of a solid waste sorting and recovery facility at the central landfill on Meacham Road, Sonoma County has taken a key step toward its long-term goal of keeping all refuse out of the ground.

Some details remain to be worked out, but the Board of Supervisors approved a permit for the landfill operator, Arizona-based Republic Services, to build a materials recovery facility inside an existing building at the landfill west of Cotati.

“It’s close,” said Supervisor Shirlee Zane, chairwoman of the Sonoma County/City Solid Waste Advisory Group.

Republic Services is obliged to build the facility at its own expense under the terms of a 20-year landfill management agreement worth an estimated $547 million.

Opposition from neighbors of the landfill had prompted supervisors to postpone approval of the use permit, which came on a unanimous vote Tuesday.

via Recovery facility approved for Sonoma County landfill | The Press Democrat.

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Hearing continues on disputed recycling facility at county landfill

Brett Wilkison, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A planned recycling facility at the Sonoma County landfill that has been caught up in a lawsuit is set for a second round of public input after its permit hearing before the Board of Supervisors was continued Tuesday.

The project calls for installation of a mechanized solid waste sorting and recovery operation inside the existing transfer station at the central landfill off Meacham Road west of Cotati.

The plans are part of the county’s effort to boost recycling of reusable material now being disposed at the landfill, thereby increasing the site’s lifespan and cutting down on carbon emissions from decaying garbage.

“When we divert more material, we create a cleaner environment,” said Supervisor Shirlee Zane, a strong supporter of the recycling project.

It was packaged within a larger deal approved by the county last year to turn over operation of the landfill to a private operator under a 20-year agreement worth an estimated $547 million.

via Hearing continues on disputed recycling facility at county landfill | The Press Democrat.

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Sonoma County's 'Green Mary' Munat hard at work

Chris Smith, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
If you were at Golden Gate Park’s huge Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival this past weekend you might have seen Mary Munat, in the garbage.
A closer look would have revealed that Munat, a Windsor resident known throughout the Bay Area and beyond as Green Mary, was in fact expending most of her energy and effort on non-garbage.
For more than a decade, her chief reason for being has been to educate, cajole, pester and shame organizers and attendees of large, public events to move aggressively toward generating no trash to be buried in landfills.
via Sonoma County’s ‘Green Mary’ Munat hard at work | PressDemocrat.com.