City Council should reconsider recycling plan

By Union Democrat staff July 23, 2010 03:53 am
    Capitalizing on history, many Mother Lode towns have learned, is often the key to prosperity.
 But Sonora is holding on to a part of the past that will do it no good: The City Council, in a 2-2 deadlock, refused to join a two-cart recycling program that won Tuolumne County’s blessing months ago.
    Although the move won’t return Sonora to the days when miners threw their trash down gullies, it put the city in a recycling stone age when contrasted with the rest of California.
    It’s a hasty, short-sighted decision that the council should reconsider.
    The two-cart system proposed by Waste Management is used in most of the state. Under the plan, household trash would be collected in 35-gallon carts weekly. Then, once every two weeks, WM would pick up 96-gallon carts containing a wide variety of recyclables.
    The move, although it would cost customers a little more, would dramatically increase the percentage of city trash recycled. Cardboard, junk mail, office paper, magazines, telephone books and egg cartons — none of which are now collected curbside — would be welcome in the big carts.
    But the council, with newly-elected Matt Hawkins and 45-year veteran Ron Stearn saying no thanks, instead took a step backwards.
    It’s not like the city’s present and ineffective blue bag recycling system will continue. Grants funding the program have expired and the program is already on borrowed time.
    So when WM’s more than 7,000 county customers go to the two-cart system next month, Sonorans will be left with no curbside recycling at all.
    Few are mourning the demise of the 13-year-old blue bag program, under which plastic-bagged recyclables were thrown in trucks with the rest of the garbage. Because many of the blue bags burst, about 40 percent the bottles,cans and newspapers were “contaminated” and thus not successfully recovered.
    But now the city will be left without even the remaining 60 percent: The Mono Village transfer station has been retooled for two-cart processing, and blue bags will not be accepted. Sonorans must now haul recyclables to WM’s processing enter on Camage Ave. — a trip that many just won’t take.
    The result? In an era when the state is requiring cities and counties to recycle more of their trash, Sonora will almost certainly be recycling less.
    The city now recycles about 56 percent of its trash, just 6 percentage points above the present state minimum. If that minimum, as some expect, rises to 60 or 75, Sonora will have a serious problem.
    “I’m disappointed,” said veteran City Administrator Greg Applegate. “We need to have vision to meet the state requirements, and this week it wasn’t there.”
    The council deadlock came in spite of three public workshops on the plan, lengthy talks with WM and Applegate’s seldom-ignored recommendation.
    The dissenters’ reasons?
    Councilman Stearn had reservations about costs, and said some of the city streets may be too narrow to accommodate the larger cans. Hawkins had no problem with the carts, but said the proposed 13-year contract with Waste Management is too long.
    Once the separate recyclable pickup is added, costs for collection of a single can a week in the city would rise about $3 to $21.43 a month.
    WM asked the 13-year contract, in part to assure that purchase of four new trucks for about $750,000 and 16,000 new carts for customers will be expenses justified by a long period of assured service. 
    Some critics also asked that the council call for bids once the city contract with WM expires in 2013. But with fewer than 1,000 customers, few haulers may find the contract enticing.
    Contrasted with the consequences of inaction, problems with the new contact can easily be solved. It’s time for the Sonora City Council to work out those issues and take a needed step forward.