S.J. eyes new re­cy­cling firm

Cal­i­for­nia Waste So­lu­tions crit­i­cized for its ser­vices and treat­ment of res­i­dents, but the com­pany says it’s be­ing un­fairly eval­u­ated

The Mercury News - - Front Page - By Emily DeRuy [email protected]­yare­anews­group.com

SAN JOSE >> A while back, Bob Staedler no­ticed the lid on his re­cy­cling cart peek­ing open a few inches when he put it out at the curb for col­lec­tion. Later, the Na­glee Park res­i­dent found a warn­ing no­tice from Cal­i­for­nia Waste So­lu­tions telling him he was break­ing the rules.

Other nearby res­i­dents have gone out to bring in empty bins after their sched­uled pickup only to find them full, with a non­col­lec­tion no­tice at­tached ex­plain­ing there was garbage in­side.

“The ser­vice is just bad, and I know all my neigh­bors aren’t happy with them,” Staedler said. “It’s in­con­sis­tent. It’s frus­trat­ing.”

On Tues­day, the San Jose City Coun­cil is set to con­sider let­ting a con­tract with the com­pany to pick up re­cy­cling for more than 75 per­cent of the city’s sin­gle­fam­ily

homes ex­pire in three years and putting the job out to bid.

The city’s En­vi­ron­men­tal Ser­vices De­part­ment ac­cuses Cal­i­for­nia Waste So­lu­tions, which has had a con­tract with

the city for more than a decade, of do­ing a poor job, be­ing too ag­gres­sive in is­su­ing non­col­lec­tion no­tices and pro­vid­ing poor cus­tomer ser­vice.

The com­pany has paid more

than $2 mil­lion in penal­ties for, among other things, late col­lec­tions and slow cus­tomer re­sponse times, while Green Team, the other com­pany that picks up re­cy­cling at sin­gle-fam­ily homes in the city, has paid just $14,000 in fines.

“We didn’t feel like we’d got­ten value for the ratepayer in any of the cat­e­gories,” said Ker­rie Ro­manow, the de­part­ment direc­tor.

The de­part­ment is rec­om­mend­ing that the City Coun­cil con­tinue its re­la­tion­ship with the city’s three other re­cy­cling and trash con­trac­tors.

But Cal­i­for­nia Waste So­lu­tions says that it’s not be­ing treated fairly and that los­ing the con­tract with San Jose — nearly half of the com­pany’s busi­ness — would be a ma­jor blow.

“We’re very con­cerned,” said David Duong, the pres­i­dent and CEO, who came to the U.S. as a young Viet­namese refugee.

Right now, Cal­i­for­nia Waste So­lu­tions and the other re­cy­cling and garbage con­trac­tors have agree­ments to do busi­ness with San Jose through 2021.

Ro­manow and her team have been ne­go­ti­at­ing new terms with the com­pa­nies for the years be­yond that.

And while the city says the cost in­creases pro­posed by some of the other com­pa­nies are rea­son­able, it ar­gues that the in­crease pro­posed

by Cal­i­for­nia Waste So­lu­tions — about 60 per­cent — is not.

Yet the com­pany says that its orig­i­nal pric­ing — which helped it win the bid — was much lower than that of its peers and that the ac­tual dol­lar amounts are not sig­nif­i­cantly dif­fer­ent.

The house­hold ser­vice rate for Cal­i­for­nia Waste So­lu­tions now is slightly less than $11 but could be as much as $18 un­der the new pro­posal.

Green Team, on the other hand, would re­main at around $15.

“We want to make sure we have a same level play­ing field,” Duong said.

But the city says a sig­nif­i­cant price in­crease in ar­eas serviced by Cal­i­for­nia Waste So­lu­tions would

mean an uptick in costs for res­i­dents in those ar­eas without an im­prove­ment in ser­vice.

And, Ro­manow said, while the com­pa­nies do have dif­fer­ent tar­gets and con­tract stip­u­la­tions, even if Cal­i­for­nia Waste So­lu­tions had been eval­u­ated by Green Team’s stan­dards, it still wouldn’t have met them.

When Cal­i­for­nia Waste So­lu­tions put in a bid to han­dle re­cy­cling for more than 160,000 homes in the early 2000s, the econ­omy was dif­fer­ent and it was eas­ier to sell re­cy­clables.

China, which the U.S. has re­lied on to take much of its re­cy­clables, has cracked down on the level of — in in­dus­try par­lance — con­tam­i­na­tion it will ac­cept.

And with soar­ing hous­ing costs, more peo­ple are cram­ming into sin­gle-fam­ily homes and pro­duc­ing more trash that some­times gets wrongly shoved in the re­cy­cling bin.

Cal­i­for­nia Waste So­lu­tions es­ti­mates that as much as 40 per­cent of what it col­lects is con­tam­i­nated. (The city’s own es­ti­mate is closer to a third.)

Dur­ing a re­cent drive around a quiet neigh­bor­hood off Jack­son Street, a quick sur­vey showed Sty­ro­foam, a banned item, pok­ing out of one re­cy­cling bin.

A few houses away, a can of beans had con­gealed food ce­mented in the bot­tom, which can gum up ma­chin­ery and ren­der even more items un­us­able.

“I think a big part of it is a lack of un­der­stand­ing,” said Glen Holsen­berg, the op­er­a­tions direc­tor for Cal­i­for­nia Waste So­lu­tions.

At the com­pany’s pro­cess­ing plant in an in­dus­trial area east of High­way 101, work­ers sorted dirty di­a­pers, greasy pizza boxes, shoes, propane can­is­ters, Christ­mas lights and other non­re­cy­clable items from a con­veyor belt rolling past them.

“We have to dis­pose of it,” Holsen­berg said of the con­tam­i­nated items mixed in with the cans and paper and plas­tic bot­tles the com­pany likes to see.

Tak­ing trash to a land­fill is costly, so in an ef­fort to limit dump runs, the com­pany has is­sued non­col­lec­tion no­tices. Thou­sands of them.

From Jan­uary through Sep­tem­ber 2018, ac­cord­ing to the city, Cal­i­for­nia Waste So­lu­tions is­sued on av­er­age more than 4,000 non­col­lec­tion no­tices per month.

Green Team dis­trib­uted just 14 each month on av­er­age.

One rea­son for the dis­par­ity may be that Green Team con­tracts with an­other com­pany, Green Waste, to process the re­cy­clables it col­lects in San Jose.

At the Green Waste fa­cil­ity, not far from Cal­i­for­nia Waste So­lu­tions, more of the sort­ing process is au­to­mated, and the com­pany says it can sort and find mar­kets for items that typ­i­cally get trashed else­where, such as CDs.

The com­pany is up­grad­ing rel­a­tively new equip­ment to help meet China’s new stan­dards, too.

“If you want to stay com­pet­i­tive in this mar­ket, you need to stay ahead,” said Tracy Adams, co-chief ex­ec­u­tive of Green Waste. “We’ve seen this com­ing for a while.”

If San Jose ul­ti­mately de­cides not to re­new its con­tract with Cal­i­for­nia Waste So­lu­tions, the com­pany says, dozens of good union jobs could dis­ap­pear.

Of the 100 or so plant work­ers, the com­pany es­ti­mates, 78 per­cent call San Jose home.

Martin Ngo, 28, is one of them. Ngo has worked for the com­pany since his 21st birth­day and earns around $23 an hour sort­ing re­cy­clables.

“It would be heart­break­ing,” he said of the prospect of the fa­cil­ity clos­ing. “I hon­estly don’t want to think about it.”

Jose Bar­raza, who lives in Tracy and has been with the com­pany nearly 20 years, agrees.

“Ev­ery­body in­side is con­cerned about this,” the fa­ther and grand­fa­ther said. “This is our sec­ond house here.”

Ro­manow says she just wants to do what’s best for the res­i­dents of San Jose and find a re­cy­cling provider that can pro­vide good ser­vice at a rea­son­able cost.

“It’s un­for­tu­nate,” she said. “I don’t want us to be in this po­si­tion again.”

RANDY VAZQUEZ — STAFF PHO­TOG­RA­PHER

San Jose is con­sid­er­ing drop­ping its con­tract with Cal­i­for­nia Waste So­lu­tions, which han­dles most of the city’s re­cy­cling.

RANDY VAZQUEZ — STAFF PHO­TOG­RA­PHER

Work­ers sort out trash from re­cy­clable ma­te­rial at Cal­i­for­nia Waste So­lu­tions in San Jose on Thurs­day. The com­pany says as much as 40per­cent of what it col­lects is non­re­cy­clable.

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