Recology seeks large rate increase to replace non-compliant trucks, aging bins

01/01/2020

Trash collection soon could get costlier in West Marin. Recology Sonoma Marin will ask the Board of Supervisors on Jan. 14 to approve a 30 percent rate increase effective this month, to help pay for deferred and rising costs in operations and repairs. The increase—which excludes Bolinas and Stinson Beach, which have individual contracts—was calculated through a detailed rate review process. Customers with the most popular 32-gallon trash bin will pay about $27 more each three-month billing cycle. The extra revenue will help Recology cover badly needed replacement trucks and cans after the Ratto Group, which served West Marin for nearly a decade until 2017, cut corners in order to save money, general manager Fred Stemmler said. “The increase is high because of the failure to replace a lot of the equipment,” he explained. After taking over the company in 2017, Recology took 30 percent of its inherited fleet off the road. Now it must replace $21 million worth of trucks over the next five years in order to meet emission requirements set by the California Air Resources Board, Mr. Stemmler said. Each year, an old truck model is disallowed; the only way to keep it on the road is to retrofit it with a diesel particulate filter, which removes particulate matter from the exhaust but must be regenerated through the night. Mr. Stemmler said Recology rarely uses this stopgap measure because it doesn’t address other failing parts of a truck; instead, the company shells out $350,000 per truck when a model expires. In 2020, Recology will have to replace 22 different vehicles, from collection trucks to cart trucks,  at an average cost of $200,000. Another shortcut that individual Ratto employees took was to mix waste and recycling into one truck compartment. Employees told customers that the recycling was sorted afterwards, but Mr. Stemmler found that post-collection sorting was not happening, and in fact is not permitted. When Recology purchased Ratto, it hired the existing workforce and continued the same services. Recology audited itself and confirmed that drivers were mixing waste and recycling to save themselves a second trip, so the franchise added routes to ensure there were enough trucks to pick up recycling separately. Mr. Stemmler said he hasn’t heard complaints since. As the company has tried to verify that the work it is contracted to do is being done, Mr. Stemmler said it uncovered more problems with equipment and compliance. With help from the rate increase, customers will receive all new bins over the next 18 months, replacing containers left by previous companies that are brittle or fractured. The increase will also help fund capital replacements at the recycling sorting facility in Santa Rosa, where $12 million is needed to upgrade antiquated systems. The company hired more sorters there last year after China set higher standards for the impurities allowed in shipments of foreign recycling. Similar rate increases are being considered for Recology’s 11 other franchise areas. Mr. Stemmler said he doesn’t foresee asking for another rate increase until Recology’s contract with the county expires in 2029.