San Jose considers rate hike for garbage service
Waste bins line a neighborhood street on trash day in North San Jose. Photo by Lloyd Alaban.

    San Jose residents may be facing another unexpected consequence of the pandemic: Higher garbage bills.

    The city is working double time to collect weekly trash, which has only increased since people became more confined to their homes. As a result, residential garbage and recycling rates could increase up to $8.21 per month or $98.52 per year, according to a recent city report.

    “This is just one of the many things that go up in terms of household expenses when your family is forced to quarantine,” Kerrie Romanow, director of the Environmental Services Department, said. “The same is true for electricity — people are paying more for that because they are home more. People are paying more for water because they are home all day using water.”

    The proposed increases will give San Jose residents a higher bill than some other cities in the region, including Santa Clara and Fremont. Rates for the 32-gallon garbage bin, used by 90% of households, could jump to $47.33 a month from $39.12 now.

    But the rates are not set in stone. On Tuesday, the San Jose City Council asked staff to look into ways they can lower rates for residents who are already struggling to pay their bills during COVID-19.

    ”We ought to be trying very hard not to be passing on these huge increases in a time like this,” Councilmember David Cohen said.

    More than half a million tons of waste are collected each year from more than 320,000 San Jose households, the report states. Contracted garbage collectors have handled 10% more waste during the pandemic while giving San Jose a one-time 1% break on costs, saving the city $1.15 million, according to the report.

    City waste services also include yard trimming collection, composting, used oil collection and processing waste to remove organics and recyclables — which gives San Jose one of the highest recycling rates in the country.

    Romanow said the city already has thought of a few ways to keep garbage bills from climbing.

    Potential federal relief funds may be available to help in coming months but in the meantime Romanow proposed limiting junk pickup services — where residents can have large items such as mattresses, sofas, refrigerators and tires hauled away — to two, three-item pickups per year. Currently, there is no limit to these pickups. Residents can schedule them year-round.

    But use of junk collection services is up by a record-breaking 400% since the pandemic started. Romanow said cutting these services could be expensive if residents have to pay separately to get rid of extra items.

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    Another option is to reduce filtering trash to separate recyclables but Cohen pushed back against lowering environmental standards and asked Romanow not to consider such an option.

    “I just wanted to emphasize the need for really investing in a deep understanding of every possible lever we might have to mitigate cost increases,” Councilmember Matt Mahan said. “It’s critical we communicate to the public that the rates are not final and we are working to try to mitigate these impacts.”

    Contact Carly Wipf at [email protected] or follow @CarlyChristineW on Twitter.

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