Stanislaus residents could be fined for recycling violations

Gilton Solid Waste Management will charge the lower rate to serve parts of Stanislaus County.

Gilton Solid Waste Management will charge the lower rate to serve parts of Stanislaus County.

Modest Bee

Stanislaus County garbage service customers recently faced rate increases of between $13 and nearly $30 per month to cover recycling costs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from landfills.

A new county ordinance approved Tuesday threatens fines for people who contaminate color-coded recycling carts with the wrong materials and adds requirements for grocery stores, restaurants and food service providers.

County supervisors, who approved the order, made sure to emphasize that they are under state orders to implement policies designed to address climate change.

County leaders said they are getting feedback from people from all walks of life, from those complaining about the sharp rise in littering rates to people who strongly favor recycling to fight climate change.

Senate Bill 1383, signed by former Gov. Jerry Brown in 2016, required counties to reduce organic waste that goes to landfills. The statewide goal is to reduce 75% by 2025, which equates to 20 million tons being diverted from landfills.

When yard clippings, wood, food scraps, papers and cardboard are buried in landfills, the organic matter breaks down and leads to planet-warming methane emissions, according to experts advising the state.

The recycling push in Stanislaus County began with big rate increases and the conversion to a three-cart collection system for affected residents in January or March. Commercial customers have also seen their rates increase.

Bertolotti Disposal customers in Salida, Keyes, Crows Landing, Grayson and Westley, and Turlock Savenger customers in Denair, Empire, Hickman, La Grange and pockets of Turlock County were affected. Gilton’s solid waste management department at Knights Ferry and Valley Home has launched a two-trolley system separating green waste and household waste, as the carrier has a facility to separate recyclables.

Some sparsely populated census tracts are exempt from the requirements. State law is expected to expand county areas by 1,520 square miles where garbage service is mandatory.

County residents are advised to monitor notices from their waste hauler outlining the changes.

Under the new county order, food operations at two different levels would have to enter into agreements to donate edible food — which is not sold to customers and would otherwise be thrown away — to charities or local organizations. Businesses are required to keep records of donations.

Tier 1 businesses include food vendors, foodservice and distributors, grocery stores over 10,000 square feet, and supermarkets with over $2 million in annual revenue. These companies had a deadline of January 1, 2022 to make deals.

Level 2 includes hotels selling food on site, restaurants, school cafeterias, hospitals and large entertainment venues. They have until January 1, 2024 to complete edible food donation agreements that would otherwise be discarded.

The revised ordinance gives the county authority to enforce food recycling and salvage requirements. Violators can be cited and face escalating fines if affected county residents fail to separate their trash into containers or sign up for required services.

Carriers serving unincorporated areas will tag recycling carts that contain contaminated waste streams, such as lawn clippings mixed with household trash.

The first tags are for educational purposes. Additional violations can result in a fine of $50 to $100 for the first violation, $100 to $200 for a second violation, and up to $500 for a third violation.

Carriers will initially provide courtesy pickup of contaminated carts twice before refusing service. On October 1, the policy changes to a courtesy pickup.

Education first, then application

According to a presentation at Tuesday’s board of supervisors meeting, county staff members plan to focus on education for enforcement activities until strict enforcement takes effect in January. 2024.

County inspectors will distribute flyers with information about SB 1383 food donation requirements when they visit restaurants and food establishments starting next month.

Board Chairman Terry Withrow said state law unfortunately puts the county in the role of “trash police” to enforce solid waste recycling compliance.

Joyce Parker, who lives in an unincorporated area, told the council there wasn’t much room in her garage for three 96-gallon carts and no need for large containers. Her household has no garden clippings and only a small amount of waste to dispose of, she said.

Parker handed supervisors a proposed resolution for “free choice of trash can sizes.”

Supervisor Buck Condit predicted that high garbage collection rates and new requirements will lead to more illegal dumping along roads, which is already a source of frustration.

Condit said it’s time to review the county’s illegal landfill law to address the issue.

More information for residents and businesses is available at www.stanislausrecycles.org.

This story was originally published March 30, 2022 7:21 a.m.

Ken Carlson covers county government and health care for The Modesto Bee. His coverage of public health, medicine, consumer health issues and the healthcare industry appeared in The Bee for 15 years.

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