Trash and debris accumulates at the 7th Street onramp to Highway 280 in San Jose. Photo by Ramona Giwargis.
Trash and debris accumulates at the 7th Street onramp to Highway 280 in San Jose. Photo by Ramona Giwargis.

    Residents and businesses in East Santa Clara County will see their garbage rates go up this summer. Officials say that’s largely due to the rapidly changing international recyclables market.

    On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors approved the 5.5% increase, effective July 1. The increase will affect about 5,000 customers in eastern unincorporated Santa Clara County, as well as parts of San Jose and Milpitas who receive garbage pick up service from the contracted hauler, Recology South Bay.

    The hauler’s county contract allows for rate increases if circumstances change beyond the company’s control. In this case, changes in the international market for recyclable materials have reduced revenues generated and increased costs to process recyclable materials.

    Money collected from garbage rates helps pay for a myriad of services including garbage and recycling pick up, organics and food waste collection, motor oil and oil filter recycling, neighborhood clean-up services, household hazardous waste programs, composting and other waste prevention programs.

    In the coming fiscal year, the rate increase is expected to generate an additional $144,000 for Recology to cover the costs of service. Monthly rates will increase by about $4 to $5 for most single-family homes across the eastern garbage district.

    For example, a home using a 32-gallon garbage cart pays $39.33 per month for collection. On July 1, the same household will pay $42.83.

    Schedule of service rates effective now through July 1, 2021, when garbage pick up rates are set to increase by more than 5%. Image courtesy of the County of Santa Clara.

    The increase comes after three cities in the county—Santa Clara, Campbell and San Jose—hiked garbage rates earlier this year or discussed raising them. San Jose’s proposed increases are also due to increased household waste and contaminated recyclables, which spiked during the pandemic.

    According to county documents, Recology appealed to the county for this increase in March 2019, following China’s “National Sword” regulations on international recyclable commodities markets. China’s policy, implemented in 2017, heavily restricted imports of North American and European recyclables after taking most of those region’s waste for about two decades.

    Future rate increases will be limited to 1% per year through the end of the hauler’s contract with the county, set to expire in 2025.

    Proposed maximum monthly service rates for residential areas starting July 1, 2021. Image courtesy of the County of Santa Clara.
    Proposed maximum monthly service rates for commercial areas starting July 1, 2021. Image courtesy of the County of Santa Clara.

    “I would like to point out that some other cities are implementing double digit rate increases this year, including to address the recyclables market issues…” Consumer and Environmental Protection Agency Director Jo Zientek said. “With this increase, District East rates remain below the county average for county residents.”

    The county only took written protest, instead of verbal comment, during the public meeting. A few residents wrote in and said the increases weren’t fair based on how little they use the services offered.

    “For my personal usage of Recology’s service, I probably did not even use half of what Recology is offering to residents,” wrote Michael Qi, a resident of rural East County. “For the garbage cart, I (on average) only push it out for collection every other week. For the recycle cart, I push it out about once a month for collection… In summary, I did not even use the current service in its full capacity. Any rate increase seems unfair.”

    Tapan and Nandita Lala requested that different levels of service be offered.

    “We should have a choice of taking less frequent service with proportionately lesser fees,” wrote the couple, adding that more competition might be a good thing. “The county should consider inviting and allowing multiple service providers to compete with different grades of service and rates but with a reasonable maximum cap.”

    Residents can still hold out hope for a partial refund of fees in the future. If costs aren’t as high as Recology expects, the hauler is required by contract to refund extra funds through fee offsets for the next year, or with a rebate at the end of 2025.

    “I want to make sure there’s some type of oversight so it can be refunded to consumers,” Supervisor Otto Lee said.

    Zientek confirmed that every year her department performs an audit to ensure any applicable fees are returned to consumers.

    A recent investigation into Recology’s dealings in San Francisco found the company overcharged rate payers and collected about $100 million in excess fees starting in 2017. As part of a settlement, the company will pay back consumers to the tune of about $190 per household.

    Contact Madelyn Reese at [email protected] or follow @MadelynGReese on Twitter.

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