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August 5, 2009 > Recycling and Source Reduction Advisory Commission

Recycling and Source Reduction Advisory Commission

City of Milpitas
July 28

Last January, Utility Engineer Kathleen Phalen reported, staff introduced the idea of the Recycling and Source Reduction Advisory Commission (RSRAC) working on a work plan to align the activities of the commission with the mission of the commission.

From the bylaws the purpose of RSRAC is to serve as an advisory body to the city council on matters regarding the implementation of the city's source reduction and recycling element and household hazardous waste element. Those elements are in fact serving as the Source Reduction and Recycling Element and Household Hazardous Waste Element work plans that the city has and given to the state of California.

These plans are fairly old, the city has been following them and they have been effective. The purpose of these plans is to achieve the diversion goals. The state put these diversion goals out in the late 1980s. By the year 1995 the city was to be diverting 25% of its solid waste, by the year 2000 50% of its solid waste, diversion goals that the City successfully met.

Phalen postulated that probably the biggest activity that the city has implemented with Allied Waste is curbside recycling, the commercial waste recycling, from here are where the big numbers of diversion have been derived.

There is also diversion resulting from a change in people's behavior, though this is difficult to measure.

The goal of the different methods of public outreach is to have people change the way they dispose of garbage. Either by not buying it in the first place, by recycling, or other various activities to prevent the material from going to the landfill.

Phalen suggested the commission implement work plans to help the city continue to meet the goals of diversion. Landfill space is very valuable. The landfill is filling up. "We need to have these activities in place to continue to save the space of the landfill as long as possible" Phalen said.

So there are 4 core items that the commission can focus on that the work plan can cover.
A solid waste management plan, that staff is currently working on. Phalen updated the commission that they are going to council in August with a request to approve a consultant agreement so that staff can acquire data to develop the solid waste management plan.

Other items include diverting or managing universal wastes, which are a form of household hazardous wastes (HHW). Next is source reduction activities, including public outreach that helps the public understand that there are many ways to reduce their waste. The last item is city recycling and waste reduction programs.

Ideas that resulted from intensive brainstorming include increasing the recycling efforts at the school districts. Another suggestion was to talk about an annual garage day sale for Milpitas residents. Volunteer trash pick-up days, increasing public outreach, increasing student participation, reviewing technology currently available to extend the life of the landfill, and plasma incineration as an alternative to landfill disposal.

A large issue that emerged from the deliberation of the commission was disposable grocery bags, mainly plastic bags.

Different cities are trying different things, and Milpitas is observing, waiting to develop its own plan of action in regards to plastic bags. Staff said that the county is watching to see what individual cities are going to do, and how the chemicals and plastics industry reacts.

Leslie Stobbe, Public Information Specialist, said that the city of San Jose will have the staff recommendation first reviewed by its economic and community development committee, which is really a subcommittee of the city council.

The San Jose staff recommendation is to place a fee on bags, plastic bags for sure, and very likely all single use bags. The San Jose committee can do 3 things, accept the recommendation to send it to city council, decline, or ask for more information.

Stobbe said that San Jose is watching Palo Alto, because Palo Alto passed a full on ban on plastic bags and such. Palo Alto is now being sued, restraint of trade type issues from representatives of the chemicals and plastic industry.

To ban plastic bags there are a number of hurdles, there are people for it and against it.
Stobbe also said that the commission review www.savethebay.org, because it has statistics about plastic bags.

One possible model that could be followed would be for the State of California to place a fee on plastic bags as the State currently does for beverage containers.

The State has established a California Redemption Value (CRV) where the grocers collect the fee, then the money goes into a state fund, and then it would be used for promotions on what to do and what not to do, according to Stobbe, the control does not necessary have to be on a city by city basis.

Commissioners commented that some people feel that their convenience regarding plastic bags is being violated, and see bans, as well as fees, as attacks on personal freedom.

"In the rest of the world you bring your own bags" Commissioner Hong Chen said. He went on to say that no one packs your groceries for you, but in the United States we have an expectation of service.

Chair Edward Blake said that fees for plastic bags, or non-reusable bags, are a reality and attempt at behavior modification. There has to be something that those fees go to, because they are not fees, but investments, which need to provide a return. That return on investment can be in the form of reusable bags, or public outreach.

Blake said that some stores take five cents off the total cost of the purchase with the use of reusable bags.

Some commissioners recommended an educational campaign for the citizens of Milpitas, let them know about how harmful plastic bags are, and advertising on the Milpitas TV channel and website.

To develop workplans members of the commission will meet in smaller, focused subcommittees.

Subcommittee of 3 or less members can meet and work efficiently, as long as they report back to the commission at the next meeting, currently scheduled for January 2010.

If 4 or more members of the commission need to the meet, the meeting must be posted at least 3 days prior, otherwise it would be a violation of the Brown Act.

City staff recommended doing work separate from the meeting, being more effective when having less commission meetings.

In the matter of solid waste management plan the commission and staff will be working with lots of data from the consultants, and the commission needs to vote on whether they will be recommending anything to city council. That is the primary function of any advisory commission: making recommendations to city council.

Members of the commission will meet in 2 subcommittees working on plans for solid waste management and plastic bags, and report back to the commission in January.

California Redemption Value is 2.5 % of the cost of a container up to 20 ounces, beyond the 20 ounce container it is a nickel a container. So that's why there is a lot of scavenging going on.

CRV is implemented by what Stobbe calls The Bottle Bill, Assembly Bill 2020: the grocers charge you when you buy a recyclable container, and they buy them back at recycling centers on the grocer's property. Consumers can give away this value at the curb, or take it to CRV centers and they will pay not only the redemption value but also the weight, so you get more than what you paid for it.

However, going through garbage, such as at the curb, for recyclable material, known as scavenging, is illegal.

Commissioner Ricardo Ablaza commented that many residents probably avoid separating recyclables from the rest of the trash because it is a hassle or inconvenience.

Improper disposal of needles creates hazards, and flushing medication down the toilet creates adverse effects for fish, often changing the very biology of the fish and other sea life.

Pollution Reduction Week starts on or near September 14. The City of San Jose is going to come to visit and host an event on Monday, September 14 at the Milpitas Community Center.

They will be taking medicines and "sharps," including syringes, needles, razor blades, lances used to draw blood, from the public. This event will only be held from about 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

So on the following Saturday, September 19, Stobbe will be working with the county HHW program at the Senior Center to conduct a medicine, sharps, and thermometer exchange.

There will be a big push to get mercury thermometers away from people and give them what's called a solar thermometer.

The city does have activities planned for Pollution Prevention Week, and the commission and the community will be receiving more information about that.

Sharps can no longer be disposed of in the landfill.

The next meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, January 26 at City Hall.

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