At its May 4 meeting, the Visalia City Council approved an increase of $112,000 to the cost of recycling and disposing of about 30,000 trash cans the city decommissioned in its conversion from split cans for trash and recycling to separate trash cans for refuse and recyclables. The council had originally approved a $51,000 contract with AZS Dependable, Inc. in Visalia in January to grind down the 96-gallon containers into pieces smaller than a lockbox key. After nearly two months of working on the project, AZS discovered that half of the cans yielded a high-quality material that could easily be recycled but the other half contained additives that made the plastic impossible to recycle. In order to sort the cans, AZS hired three additional employees and purchased special tools to identify which cans were recyclable and which were not. The city also agreed to pay the company 10 cents per pound of lost profit on each can, or $73,500. That brought the total cost of the recycling project to $250,000, less than the city’s estimate of $340,000 to take the cans to the landfill and nearly half the lowest bid to pay a company to remove them.
When the city rolled out its new three-can system for trash, recyclable and green waste in the spring of 2019, only 10,000 of the 40,000 split cans could be converted to single cans. The remaining cans were dumped on five acres next to the city’s water reclamation facility west of Highway 99. The public works department soon discovered there was no easy solution to getting rid of the trash cans. Public Works Manager Jim Ross said the problem was a combination of the material of which they are made and the void left in the global recycling market. Like most plastics, the trash cans are made from polyethylene. The material is recyclable but only when it is separated into high- and medium-density versions. The cans were a blend of the two, making it difficult to breakdown as the two have different melting temperatures. Even if it was usable, there was no one to take the material. Ross said China decided to begin limiting its purchase of other country’s recycled material in 2018, leaving cities without the world’s largest and most consistent buyer of recyclables.