Ric Llewellyn

Friday, Mar 29 2013 08:00 PM

RIC LLEWELLYN: Let's be honest about cost of shiny blue recycling bins

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    By Alex Horvath / The Californian

    Andrew Yasahia finishes assembling one of several carts delivered on Clarion River Drive. The city's Solid Waste division conducted a test run in October preparing for the first phase of the citywide residential recycling program by assembling a delivering carts to homes in the River Run neighborhood.

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By Ric Llewellyn

A couple of weeks ago as I was returning home from work, I rolled onto the block and noticed a shiny new blue trash can sitting in the driveway.

"We don't do curbside recycling," I thought.

I know. There are lots of things to be concerned about. The Fed printing money, Leticia Perez running for the State Senate or the Proposition 8 Supreme Court review. Why would anyone care about a shiny new blue recycling bin?

Recycling is good. It slows down the rate landfills fill up. Recycling conserves energy resources as well as raw materials. Recycling provides jobs for Kern County residents who cherish the opportunity to contribute to the community.

So why do I even bring it up? I just want to add some perspective.

A few years ago curbside recycling was implemented in several Kern County communities, including the City of Bakersfield. Some outlying communities included the program in the regular trash service, but the program was voluntary in the greater Bakersfield area.

Of course, the voluntary program incurred an additional fee. It was just as convenient and basically free for many of us to drop recyclables off at various facilities around Kern County. It wasn't worth it to subscribe to the blue can.

Last fall it was announced that the blue bins would be included as part of the regular trash service in the City of Bakersfield. At the time it was disclosed that the once subscription-based service was now being offered free "due to additional money that was generated from existing waste disposal fees."

Math is one of my strong points. So "additional money" coming from "existing fees" didn't sound right. Did existing fees go up in order to generate additional money?

Or is it possible to add fee payers, cover the cost of additional service and still have money left over to pay for curbside recycling for everyone?

Don't get me wrong. Curbside recycling is the right thing to do. But I want an honest presentation of the circumstances surrounding the new program.

You know it's not our collective conscience that drives curbside recycling, right?

It's the law. Since 1989 California has pushed local jurisdictions to meet waste diversion objectives.

The most recent legislation has raised the waste diversion rate to 75 percent by 2020. With an aggressive goal like that backed by punitive fines for non-compliance, the city could not wait for residents to get on board.

It was time to give everyone the blue can.

With all the blue cans, we will certainly increase the amount of waste diverted from our landfills. But what will it cost?

Imagine a street lined with blue cans. A few have diligently separated their blue from their tan trash. Every two weeks their can is brimful of recyclable material.

Everyone else on the block has only thrown their junk mail, corn flakes boxes and a few water bottles in the big blue bin. Maybe some will use their common sense and hold the can for two more weeks. But many won't.

Then refuse trucks will drive the streets of Bakersfield gulping the contents of every blue can whether little or much. They will disgorge their loads at the sorting facility and then do it again tomorrow.

I'm sure the "additional money from existing fees" was meticulously calculated and reviewed. But it will take some time to find out how much it will actually cost to operate curbside recycling citywide. The program is being phased in, so we'll have an opportunity to re-evaluate and adjust.

And when we do, I can't imagine anyone being surprised that rate increases are proposed. And remember, this waste diversion program is not optional. We cannot defer it into the future. So one way or another, the cost will be covered.

In the meantime, watch for increased efforts to educate every home in Bakersfield about the blue bins. Education could be the key to a successful waste diversion program. We all need to start adjusting our trash habits now.

I managed to get a bunch of cardboard out of the garage and into my shiny new blue can last week. I didn't break any of it down so it looked like a lot. But I still use one trash bag as my central household trash collection point. It will take some time, but we will make the adjustments.

Curbside recycling is a government service and it's not free. The cost of operating the program needs to be paid and its implementation needs to proceed on the state's schedule.

Curbside recycling does save energy, natural resources, trees, water and landfills as the flier says. But it is the State of California's waste diversion requirements that are driving the program.

So enough with the spin. Just be honest with me. I can take it. And I'll do my part.

-- Ric Llewellyn is one of three community columnists whose work appears here every Saturday. These are the opinions of Llewellyn, not necessarily The Californian. You can email him at llewellyn.californian@gmail.com. Next week: Heather Ijames.

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