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December 30, 2009 > Future of city's solid waste program

Future of city's solid waste program

By Dustin Findley

City of Milpitas' current collection and disposal agreement with Allied Waste will expire in 2017 and Allied Waste's Newby Island landfill, the City's long-time disposal site, is projected to reach capacity and close in 2022.

"Solid-waste management is an important public health issue," Bob Hilton, HF&H Consultants, informed Council on December 15. "Beyond that, the way we handle solid waste affects every one of our businesses and residents at least weekly."

The original contract was signed in 1986, when collection and disposal were simpler. Now, changes in regulations, culture and industry practices have made the garbage business more complex.

There is a lack of data about the cost of service and revenues. Not knowing the underlying costs makes it difficult to adjust rates for residential, commercial and "roll-off" customers (businesses using the largest boxes that are rolled off a flat-bed delivery vehicle).

"Regulation of landfill is increasingly expensive with the installation and use of leach aid-recovery systems and methane gas-recovery systems becoming more expensive," said Hilton.

Regulation will require commercial enterprises to recycle starting in 2011.

"Each year the legislature is faced with increasing the diversion level from the previous 50 percent to 75 percent. 'Zero waste' is being talked about. It isn't so much about how much is being diverted but certain programs maximize the diversion of all materials," said Hilton.

As the waste stream separates into smaller and smaller streams, such as electronic waste, medical waste, pharmaceuticals, "sharps" (needles and syringes), specialized management is required. Competition is also growing for compost sites and disposal capacity is dwindling.

"Certain regulations are forcing cities to ensure less material ends up in the storm water system," Hilton explained.

There are about 12 operational landfills in Santa Clara, San Joaquin, San Mateo and Contra Costa counties. At the current rate of disposal, thirty years from now there will only be two operational landfills.

Mayor Robert Livengood asked about, and Hilton described, the possibility of Milpitas "buying capacity" to reserve space for solid waste at Newby Island because it is comparatively close to Milpitas. If nearby landfills are unavailable, transporting waste elsewhere will increase garbage rates for all customers. Competition and price for that remaining capacity will be high.

The City needs to make long-term plans for solid-waste management and disposal and take action now. Some of that planning will involve new technology, such as machines that convert organic material to energy.

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