June 14, 2005 > Recycling and Politics
Recycling and Politics
An Interview with Union City City Councilmember Richard Valle
A recent shift of Tri-Ced Recycling to "single stream" collection and an announcement by CEO and Union City Councilmember Richard Valle of his intention to be a candidate for District 2 County Supervisor, prompted TCV to talk with him about the changes in the recycling industry and his future political aspirations.
TCV: Why is the shift to "single stream" recycling so important?
Valle: We started in 1986 with two cans, one for cans and one for paper. We then went to two 14 gallon bins and now we are a state of the art industry with one 64 gallon container for everything. This change gives residents an easier way to recycle. Since instituting a single stream system, we have noticed a 15 percent increase in the amount of material being recycled.
TCV: In the past, we were all asked to carefully separate our recyclables. What allows Tri-Ced to efficiently recycle a container with many recyclables mixed together?
Valle: An investment of about $2 million in a machine helps us to do this. We still need manual labor but we have considerably more throughput and capacity. This allows us to separate materials more finely.
TCV: What does the machine do? Does it use a magnet to separate cans from paper?
Valle: That is one of its elements. It also allows us to separate paper types too - newspaper from grades of office paper and get a better price when selling it. There are different grades of paper and the markets are broad - from $80 per ton up to $185 per ton. The more markets open to you [with better separation] not just in California but along the Pacific Rim - Japan, Korea, Mainland China, Indonesia, India - the better prices we can get for our product. We didn't have this capacity before.
We are at the same technological level as large companies although they may have machines that allow more capacity. We can process 20 tons per hour while larger companies have equipment that can process 50 tons per hour.
TCV: What material causes the greatest problem in this system?
Valle: Plastic bags. These should go back to the market where customers got them or put in the garbage since they are uneconomical for us to recycle. It is hard - almost impossible - to bale plastic bags. Polystyrene packaging, used when shipping items such as computers, is also unusable. If we try to bale these materials, it is like trying to bale air.
On September 12, we will move to weekly collection that will include organic material (food). There will be a small, separate container for the kitchen waste that can be filled with everything from banana peels to steak bones.
On June 1, we started a new component - electronics recycling. This includes computers, computer screens, televisions, DVD and CD Players, computer peripherals and cell phones. SB-20, a new law went into effect January 1, 2005 that mandates an advance disposal fee when people buy electronics. The consumer pays at the point of purchase. We are paid from that fund when we receive electronics for recycling. We are going to have a large event to announce this on July 2nd. From 8:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. when the entire facility will be open to the public.
TCV: How much of material collected by Tri-Ced is recyclable? How much is waste (residual) and cannot be recyclable?
Valle: Prior to single stream recycling, we have been averaging 3%-5% residual. Rule of thumb for single stream is 8%-10% residual. The material we cannot use is put in a land-fill for solid waste.
TCV: Have the number of employees increased?
Valle: We have 62 full-time employees but during the summer months we hire students from the local high schools (Logan and Hayward). We increase our work force by about 8-12 people with these hires who work here in the summer and then can work weekends during the school year. They work in customer service in the "buy back" area where people bring bottles and cans for redemption value.
Electronics recycling will expand our operations. We plan to open a de-manufacturing line that will break electronics into their component parts. This actually increases the value of these parts rather than recycling them as a whole. We are partnering with a private sector company called Nxtcycle and plan to process one million pounds per month. We are one of the few non-profit/for profit partnerships to do this.
TCV: What are the plans for the future?
Valle: Over the long term, we hope to form a partnership with the Teamsters Union where we create a prevailing wage for this new industry. Benefits would be part of the pay package. We will try to reach the economy of scale to be able to do that. The Teamsters will work with us to see if we can find a prevailing wage for the industry.
We own 4 and a half acres thanks to the California Pollution Control Financing Authority which helped us create the bonds to finance this. We also owe thanks to Tim Reilly and Union Bank in Fremont. The next level that we hope to attain is to build another building within our 70,000 square foot warehouse. Former Assemblymember John Dutra has been helping us to present this plan to cities and jurisdictions in the area. The city of Union City has just contributed $250,000 toward the development of the center. It will cost about three million to build. The center will have about 10,000 square feet on two floors including a bottom floor with space for community-based organizations such as the Union City Police Intervention Program, Filipinos for Affirmative Action, Bridges Intervention Services, etc. On the top floor we want to build an education center that will seat 75-100 people in a multipurpose room. They will be able to view the shop floor where we will be doing de-manufacturing, single stream sorting system, trucks bringing materials into the facility and commodities being shipped from the facility.
We also would like to have, in conjunction with James Logan High School, a lab where students can learn about composting, computer chips and internet capability. We hope to build this over the course of the next 12-18 months. We hope to have this in place within the next two years. John Dutra has been making presentations and we have letters of support from the city of Union City, Alameda County Solid Waste Management Authority, Alameda County Board of Education and New Haven Unified School District.
TCV: What do you see as the value of recycling?
Valley: There are two major lessons in recycling. One is the ethic taught at a very young age. If you recycle at the curbside at home and in class, the ethic of "don't throw it away" is learned. Be careful of what you buy because packaging is important. How you are indoctrinated into the capitalism ethic is important; so is the recycling ethic.
The second is that paper is made from trees, aluminum is made from bauxite, glass is made from sand; energy is used in the process of making those products. There is desire in other parts of the world to read a newspaper in the morning, start up a computer screen or fax something to someone else. The demand in the Third World is so huge that there isn't enough capacity to supply that demand. Besides the United States, China, India and Africa will also be big consumers of all sorts of things. The demand from the Pacific Rim for paper products is huge now and will be even bigger in the future. The demand for oil and all of these commodities will continue to grow. We foresee that companies that control waste streams will be just as big and powerful as oil cartels are now.
We run our fleet of trucks on CNG (Compressed Natural Gas) now. As diesel becomes more expensive, the relative cost of CNG declines. When we first bought the trucks, we paid a higher price than diesel, now it is lower. The long term will favor recycling and alternate forms of energy.
TCV: It seems to be very early to declare your candidacy for County Supervisor. Why are you making this public now?
Valle: There will be several elections in '06 - a national election, statewide election and a lot of seats that will open up due to term limits and other factors. I made a decision to run for Alameda County Supervisor over four years ago and discussed this with the current supervisor [Gale Steele]. I reconsidered at that time and endorsed her candidacy. This time I have decided to run for that office.
I think it is timely since Tri-Ced has matured to a level where it can attract good mid-level managers and job floor managers. The windows for franchise negotiations are every 10 years so there will not be another window in Union City for many years. We are in negotiations with the city of Hayward for another 10 year franchise. If successful, Tri-Ced as an organization will be pretty solid.
I have served two terms on the Union City council and could run for another term. Being mayor of Union City has always been something of interest, but being supervisor seems to be a natural fit for me. That position deals with social issues countywide and I have been working on social issues since the late '70s - Alameda County Jail in Santa Rita, in the streets with hard-to-employ youth in Union City, with seniors, with the immigrant population at Centro de Servicios and unions. At Tri-Ced, we work with people from the juvenile justice system and criminal justice system. We provide work for people who ordinarily would not have a chance to work in the private sector because of their past records and have given a lot of people a boost.
Alameda County has programs that deal with seniors, health care for new immigrants, legal advocacy, the incarcerated - elements where I have worked all my professional life. Our district, District 2, encompasses northern Fremont, all of Newark, all of Union City and all of Hayward. The boundaries changed not too long ago. The shift has made the time right for new leadership on the Board of Supervisors. I believe Scott Haggerty has done a great job for Fremont. The issue of sports franchises in Oakland will be critical and despite the passage of Measure A, the health care facilities are still having problems. It is time for a change.
TCV: A frequent criticism from the southern part of Alameda County is the lack of focus by the county on this area. How can you direct the attention of the Board of Supervisors in our direction?
Valle: What I have learned in the world of politics is similar to what is learned in the world of business. The correlation is that in order to get things done, you need to negotiate and collaborate with other parties. I strongly believe that the skills I have developed over my professional career in the world of business coupled with my passion for social services form a unique perspective not unlike Supervisor Keith Carson and Supervisor Miley.
I think that through negotiations with other supervisors and understanding one another's needs, we can see a dramatic difference in style, process and outcome of resources coming to southern Alameda County. It is a give and take, but I think through the art of compromise we can and will see a difference. My strength is being a good listener and being sincere and honest and following through on commitments made and making sure that the people I represent are taken care of whether an employee or a constituent. I have lived here for nearly 50 years so I have seen the changes in our communities and know the growth levels we are experiencing.
TCV: On a city level, do you have hope for a resolution of the Highway 84 controversy?
Valle: I have a lot of respect for everyone who is in elected office. The councilmembers of Fremont are friends of mine and we all have a lot in common - we want to do what is best for our constituents and at the same time, we understand regional issues.
Our transportation needs are interlocked so we have to do what is best not only for our city, but on a regional basis. I am optimistic that we will reach an agreement that will be good not only for Fremont and Union City, but for all surrounding cities - those who come into our areas to work, buy a loaf of bread, stop by for a cup of coffee, etc.
The infrastructure of mass transit needs to be beefed up and so does education. We have designed our homes and cities that do not take transportation needs into account. Often homes are sold based on whether it contains two or three car garages. The next generation of housing, whether in north or south county, will be vertical rather than horizontal. Housing will be of higher density and buildings will, by necessity, go up, many stories high.
TCV: Will the intermodal station planned in Union City become a dominant transportation hub or just one of many in the area?
Valle: The infrastructure for regional transportation must be linked or else it will not work. There must be several parts of the puzzle to work together (i.e. San Jose, San Francisco, Sacramento). For instance in Europe the infrastructure is all linked together; you can take rail from Germany to Paris and London. We need better infrastructure not only in our area, but also in the region and nationally. If we have a great BART station in Warm Springs and Union City, we need the same in San Jose and around the bay.