Last Tuesday, Richmond City Council voted unanimously to allow Republic Services to impose surcharges on residential customers in the city who fail to properly separate trash from recyclables. The vote amends an ordinance on solid waste collection rates to impose “recycling and green waste contamination, special service, and overage surcharges.” To pass, the amendment requires a second and final vote at a subsequent council meeting.

The surcharges aim to augment public outreach and education efforts in preventing recyclables from ending up in landfills. They are also a response to changing international market conditions on recyclables.

California’s statewide goal is to reduce trash going to landfills by 75-percent by 2020, and the city’s goal is 90-percent diversion by 2030, said Terry Singleton, recycling coordinator at Republic Services, during a presentation to council in January.

Much of those recyclable materials are shipped to China and other Asian countries, which have recently imposed stricter limits on the amount of contamination found in the recyclable materials they will purchase. “International secondary processors …are starting to reject the loads we send them that are contaminated,” Singleton said. “Collection companies are accepting fewer plastic and paper materials, and some U.S. sorting facilities are going out of business. This also means the potential for more recyclable materials going into the landfill.”

Shawn Moberg, general manager for Republic Services, called the problem a crisis. The changing market conditions prompted Republic Services to conduct an audit last year on residential recycling in West Contra Costa County. The audit found that contamination levels range from 15 to 45 percent in the region. “A lot of recycling carts are being used as a second garbage,” Singleton said.

Republic Services has found everything from soiled diapers to cat litter, clothing and even a tricycle, in the blue bins. “I will say 90 percent of the individuals we service in a residential capacity are probably doing an excellent job,” Moberg told council Tuesday.

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