Organics recycling gets the go-ahead

Costa Mesa Sanitary District ratepayers' relatively luxurious one-trash-bin-holds-all system was nice while it lasted.

The longtime program that permitted all types of refuse to go into a single bin — no sorting required — faced the end of its run Tuesday with the district directors' unanimous approval of an organics recycling program. The new system could begin as soon as November.

The program, estimated to cost about $504,000 annually, will have residents separate their trash for organics, which include gardening clippings and food scraps. The materials will go in a special bin to be picked up the same day as the rest of the trash, though by a different truck.

The organic materials will eventually be converted to renewable natural gas at an under-construction anaerobic digestion facility in Perris.

District officials say the environmentally friendly program is needed to reduce landfill waste, and that by being at the forefront, the district is ensured a competitive rate.

"The important part by us getting in like this is we're actually going to save taxpayers some money," said Director Arlene Schafer.

The system will also prepare the district to meet anticipated state mandates, said district General Manager Scott Carroll.

District President James Ferryman said "in a perfect world," the district could continue its single-bin collection.

"But the world doesn't stay the same," he said. "The rules are changing. We are not going to be able to maintain that approach ... as far as we're concerned, this is the next best thing we can do."

The directors approved a six-year evergreen contract — meaning it is automatically renewed at the end of that period — with CR&R; Waste and Recycling Services. The Stanton-based company has had a long-standing contract with the district for recycling and solid waste services.

The district did not hold a competitive bidding process for the organics recycling because no other area agencies are providing a comparable service, Carroll said. According to district documents, the district is guaranteed the lowest anaerobic digestion fee in Orange County, and should CR&R; negotiate a lower rate elsewhere, Costa Mesa would get the cheaper fee.

How the program will affect customers' rates hasn't been determined, however. That matter probably won't be discussed and finalized until February 2015, Carroll said.

District officials have said a roughly $4-million reserve fund could pay for the program initially. The directors may also choose to implement small and gradual rate hikes to cover the costs.

An environmental review of the organics program, which began in November, found that it would have a negligible effect, not creating more wear and tear on city streets, for instance. As such, the program is exempt from further review under the California Environmental Quality Act, district officials said.

Four town-hall meetings to spread the word about the organics program have taken place since November, Carroll said. About 200 total attended, with about half sharing their concerns, including odors, scavengers and parking conditions with the extra bins on the streets.

"That was so beneficial for all of us to hear what the community had to say," said Director Mike Scheafer.

Officials said storing the organic material in biodegradable bags could help with any odor problems. That type of bag is not easily available yet in Costa Mesa stores, Carroll noted, but can be found in Huntington Beach and Santa Ana.

Locks are available to deter scavenging, officials said. They also stressed reporting trash scavengers to the district's code enforcement team.

Some ratepayers may be able to receive an exemption from the organics recycling program, Carroll said, adding that those rulings will be made on a case-by-case basis. Certain multi-unit complexes, for instance, might make the argument that not enough organics can be gathered to justify participation.

Officials stressed that if people refuse to sort their trash, they will not face punitive measures.

"There are not going to be trash cops out there writing citations," Carroll said.

To make the sorting easier, though, the district will be providing small kitchen pails for easy disposal of food scraps.

Additional public notices, meetings and other measures will be taken to continue to alert people to the organics recycling program, Carroll said.

"Everything is on the table for getting the word out," he said.

The sanitary district provides residential trash collection services, predominantly for single-family homes, in all of Costa Mesa and portions of Newport Beach and unincorporated Orange County.

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