Monday, October 12, 2015

Oakland reduces food compostable collection rates

By Ken McEntee

October 7, 2015

Following angry protests from restaurant owners in Oakland, the city has lowered its commercial compost collection rates to 30 percent below the cost of picking up trash through July 2016. After that, the organics collection rate will increase to 25 percent below the waste collection rate. (See related article.)

The move reversed a situation in which the city, in July, while declaring that it wants to keep organics out of landfills, set commercial organics collection rates higher than the rate for waste collection (see Composting News, July 2015).

The new rates were part of a new 10-year contract that gives Waste Management of Alameda County a monopoly on the commercial collection of trash and compostables in the city of Oakland. The new rates coincided with the city’s launch of “Oakland Recycles,” a new zero waste program of trash, compost and recycling services with a goal to divert all compostable and recyclable material away from landfills.

Independent restaurant owners uniting under the name the name Oakland Indie Alliance, trashed the arrangement, protesting in front of City Hall.

“We are shocked by the massive compost fee increases in the contract,” Gail Lillian, owner of Liba Falafel, said at the time. “Additionally, the composting fees are set higher than trash fees, serving as a deterrent for composting.”

Lillian said, her monthly charge for organics collection more than doubled, from $225 per month to $460 per month – an increase of almost $3,000 per year. Trash collection rates increased, she said, but not nearly as much as her composting bill.

Prior to a special City Council meeting to consider revising the rates, almost 40 restaurant owners sent a letter to council that said the proposal revisions were not good enough.

“We hope that you agree that the protracted and convoluted process of writing and approving the original contract will stand as an example of how not to write a city contract for many years to come,” the letter said. “We understand this is biggest contract Oakland has ever written, and that council and city staff spent many hundreds of hours and millions of dollars to write it. Much of this effort and money was clearly wasted. Instead of writing a contract that serves the citizens and businesses of Oakland – either by providing us services we needed, or by keeping rates sustainable for services we already had – council approved a contract which has been referred to as the ‘Rolls Royce’ of contracts, with vastly increased costs being borne primarily on the backs of restaurants and multi-tenant buildings through exorbitant rates. Many of us invested in Oakland during challenging times, and hope to benefit from its resurgence. Terrible deals like this pull the rug out from under us. Oakland's independent business community will wither like it did during the early 2000 dot-com boom if you continue to ignore our needs.”

The organics collection rate adjustment to 30 percent of the waste collection rate through July 1, 2016, and 25 percent of the trash rate thereafter, the restaurateurs said, because:

  • Landfill and compost rates are still the highest in the region, by far.  
  • Regional compost rates for most surrounding cities are at 50 percent of landfill rates.
  • Twenty-five percent is far below the norm.“We need you to do more,” the letter said. 
 Please take the time to make this contract right.”
The restaurateurs called for the removal of unnecessary services from the contract with Waste Management; the re-examination of the balance of rate adjustments between the various entity types; examining the disposition of the $28 million annual franchise fee paid to the city; and bringing commercial rates in line with others in the region.
The city, however, approved its proposed rate adjustment.

Under the new program, the city admitted, commercial composting service rates charged by Waste Management “upside down – higher, in most cases, than the comparable rates for trash service, creating a disincentive for businesses to compost.”

For example, the monthly rate for collecting a 20-gallon cart of trash once a week was initially set at $27.97. The rate for the same sized cart and frequency of collection for compostables was set at $33.84 per month. Weekly collection of a seven-yard trash bin was $968.10 per month, compared to $1,109.75 for compostables.

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