Five million tons of garbage can make a big environmental difference, and that’s why the Sierra Club has asked the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to reconsider its next garbage-hauling contract. (This is not the pick-up of garbage by compactor trucks all over the city, but the hauling of garbage from the city transfer station to its final landfill.)
In 1948 San Francisco began sending its garbage to Sunnyvale, leaving the piles that now underlie the Shoreline Amphitheatre. In 1978 it contracted with the old Oakland Scavenger (now Waste Management of Alameda County) to take 15 million tons of garbage (that’s the equivalent of 6,000 miles of sea containers laid-end-to end) to the Altamont Landfill in eastern Alameda County. In 2006, with that deal running down (now projected to be completed in 2015), the city re-advertised its need, but this time, counting on reaching zero waste by 2020, for only five million tons, and got two proposals: one from Recology, the same company that does the city’s local garbage pick-up, to haul the garbage by rail to a landfill in Yuba County, and another from Waste Management, America’s largest waste company and current owner of the Altamont Landfill. The Waste Management bid was considerably higher, and the technical review committee recommended going with Recology. Questions have been raised, however, about the fairness of the bidding process and the thoroughness of the evaluation.
On Feb. 8 the San Francisco Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee listened to 3-1/2 hours of testimony and postponed its decision until mid-April. The Sierra Club Bay Chapter has asked the Board to redo its bidding process on the contract because too many important questions have not been answered.
• Is it true that the emissions of the 150-mile roundtrip by rail to Yuba would be significantly less than those for the 90-mile roundtrip to Altamont? (Recology obtained a report from a consulting firm saying that rail-haul was a little better for the environment than trucking, but the experts have never been examined in an adversarial proceeding.)
• How would the local impacts compare at the two dump sites? Residents in both areas worry about air pollution. The Livermore Valley, through which all Altamont-bound trash trucks drive, has the worst air in the nine-county Bay Area, with consequent high asthma rates. Yuba has relatively clean rural air. Yuba residents are also concerned about contamination of groundwater.
• What do the apparent cost differences really mean? One major difference is that the Altamont charges include about $22 per ton in local public fees that pay for environmental mitigations; Yuba’s fee is much lower ($4 per ton). Thus the Recology bid was low because it did not include environmental mitigation fees. If Yuba thinks its landfill is “too cheap”, it could at any time impose additional mitigation fees (which the city would have to pay on top of the costs of the Recology contract) whereas Alameda County officials are promising “no new fees” and even some waiving of current fees.
• Will Yuba County even accept San Francisco’s wastes? To date the Board of Supervisors in Yuba has not agreed to do so and numerous local activists there are pushing officials in Yuba to reject San Francisco garbage, no matter what the fees may be.
Shortly before press time the director of San Francisco Environment (the city’s environmental agency) released a letter to the Board of Supervisors contradicting many of the above claims (which the Club had made in a letter to the Board). The Club is still evaluating these counter-claims, but on initial reading they appear to provide no new information and do not resolve the Club’s issues.
Further details on this matter are available from David Haskell, chair of the Chapter’s Zero Waste Committee, at (415)485-0542 or: firstname.lastname@example.org
The San Francisco Group is leading the Club’s opposition to the deal as presented.