Where's the city's garbage going next? Nobody knows
Abe agreed that Prop. 26 could have an impact on the fee-raising process. "But I find it difficult to believe that Yuba County would have a problem raising fees on out of town garbage," he said. "If I had a choice, I'd say no to Recology. But if it's coming anyway, I know that $4.40 per ton is not going to be sufficient compensation — and this county is desperate for funds."
DoE director Melanie Nutter has claimed the Recology contract is environmentally friendlier and could save ratepayers $125 million over the life of the contract. "This is a good deal for San Francisco and for the environment," Nutter stated when DoE was pushing for a board hearing in October. "Ostrom Road is a state-of-the-art facility that employs industry best practices, and the price is dramatically lower than the competition. This will help us maintain reasonable refuse collection costs as we move toward zero waste."
The landfill disposal contract is for 5 million tons or 10 years, whichever comes first. DoE predicts that this amount will decrease in the coming years because of prior success in waste prevention, recycling, and composting programs. San Francisco already recycles 77 percent of its waste stream, the highest diversion rate of any city nationwide.
But Abe notes that Waste Management proposes to use methane generated from trash disposed at its Altamont landfill to power its liquid natural gas trucks. "I can't see how using trains would be greener," he said.
Recology spokesperson Adam Alberti has told the Guardian that Recology's waste disposal contract was environmentally superior, in part because San Francisco has mandatory composting legislation that reduces the amount of decomposing organics, a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, being sent to landfills. But Irene Creps, who has homes in San Francisco and Yuba County, pointed out that not all municipalities disposing trash at Ostrom Road have mandatory composting laws, which means the landfill will continue to generate methane. "A lot of places around here only have a black bin," Creps said.
Meanwhile, Waste Management has threatened legal action if San Francisco awards the contract to Recology, alleging that Recology's bid was procured under flawed and potentially unlawful application of administrative rules. In a Nov. 9, 2010 letter, WM's Bay Area Vice President Barry Skolnick urged San Francisco's Board of Supervisors to "reject the award to Recology and avoid entering into a high-priced 10-year contract that is not even necessary until 2015, at the earliest, and to apply the procurement process to all qualified bidders fairly and consistently, as the law requires."
The local trash controversy continues as a grassroots movement to stop Recology from expanding at the Jungo Road Landfill in Humboldt County, Nev., won an interim round. At a Dec. 20 meeting, Humboldt County commissioners voted 4-1 to reject a proposed settlement agreement with Recology that would have allowed the landfill to continue.