What’s included in my garbage rate?
Your garbage rate covers a lot more than just picking up your garbage. While each of the 12 RethinkWaste Member Agencies set the rates to address their own community’s unique needs, the garbage rate you pay is set to cover the costs for the following items in most cases: weekly recycling (blue cart) collection, weekly compost (green cart) collection, curbside used battery and cell phone recycling, curbside used motor oil and oil filter recycling, twice annual bulky item collection program, disposal fees at the landfill, processing fees for recycling, processing fees for composting, street sweeping (in some cities), county fees, local fees, landfill closure fees, and household hazardous waste fees. To see how these costs are broken up, visit the Residential Garbage Rate Info page.
With all of the new CartSMART Recycle and Compost services, I was able to downsize my garbage cart from a 32-gallon to a 20-gallon, but then my rates went up. Why am I paying more for doing the right thing?
If you downsized your garbage cart you are in fact paying a lower rate compared to what you would pay for a larger cart size. However, there are many factors that go into whether garbage rates for the same cart size go up or down each year. Your community sets garbage rates to cover the total cost of collection each year and even doing the right thing has a cost to it. There are high fixed costs irrespective of cart size that must be paid for. For example, recycling and composting more does save disposal expense at the landfill, but on average these disposal expenses only comprise 20-25% of total collection costs. There remains the cost of collection vehicles coming by your house to service your black, blue and green carts. The good news is that by recycling more there are revenues generated from the sale of commodities (paper, metals, and plastics) and those revenues help offset some collection costs.
It seems like my garbage rates are going up every couple of months, why is that?
Any rate increases are of course unwelcome, but they’re only typically once a year. Through the new contracts with Recology San Mateo County, there is an annual rate review process. This means that your rates are approved by each city one time each year, effective on or after January 1st of each year.
However, to ensure that there is transparency and an opportunity to review all of the details that go into the rates, the rate review process for the following year begins on July 1st. Your governing body (city council or board) also provides details each year on what factors are affecting your specific rates and the reasoning behind any rate increases.
What’s the process to set the garbage rates?
Each year, RethinkWaste works with its Member Agencies to prepare a rate report that specifies how much revenue each agency must raise to cover the cost of service and fees through setting garbage rates for the next calendar year. This report is available in September each year. Each Member Agency, starting around the beginning of October, then begins their individual rate setting process. This consists of determining what rates adjustments, if any, are needed for their specific community and then the Proposition 218 Notice of Public Hearing process is initiated. Through Proposition 218, residents are notified of the maximum rate adjustment being considered for that community, giving residents the opportunity to review all of the information. Residents are also provided instructions on how to provide public input and testimony on the rates being considered. A public hearing date is set during a city council or other governing board meeting to allow the public the opportunity to provide input, and based on the outcome, the governing body will consider adoption of the proposed rate adjustments. Once approved, the new rates are effective on or after January 1st of each year.
I thought it was going to be cheaper to have Recology and the new weekly collection services, but it seems like they cost a lot more. Why can’t we go back to what it was before?
All of the Member Agency communities decided to go forward with a significant overhaul of their franchised collection services so as to provide residents with more convenient services and expanded recycling and composting opportunities. We were one of the last areas in the Bay Area to get cart based collection services and this change to the new services was viewed as long overdue. These new programs do cost more but the overwhelming majority of residents are satisfied with the new services. (May 2012 Residential Customer Satisfaction Survey show 88.2% of residents surveyed were satisfied with the CartSMART program and 92% were satisfied with Recology’s service.) Even without these new services, residents were faced with very unpredictable annual rate increases in the past with the old service provided by Allied Waste. There would have also been a big rate increase to replace all of Allied Waste’s old collection vehicles, the majority of which were over 12 years old. The choice would have been for a big rate increase to replace trucks and keep the old services of every other week recycling and yard trimmings only collection, or the new services that were rolled out in January 2011. We do expect future rates to be much more stable and predictable given the cost controls we now have in place with Recology in contrast to the Allied Waste contracts. The previous contracts with Allied Waste were “cost-plus” contracts. This meant that they were guaranteed a set percentage of profit on top of all of their expenses. There was no real mechanism in place to control their costs, as their expenses and profits rose, so did the rates, making it very unpredictable as to what the rate increases would be. In addition, it allowed for the roll-over of any amount owed to them by the RethinkWaste Member Agencies in perpetuity. However, at the end of their contract, this annual rolling over of debt to the company ended. This resulted in most Member Agencies owing Allied Waste money for services provided in prior years. This debt has been a significant factor contributing to the rate increases experienced in the last two years.
The new contracts with Recology are not cost plus and do not have this rollover feature, or what we call a balancing account. Recology’s compensation is fixed each year and adjusted annually by indices like CPI.
I’m confused, aren’t costs and rates the same thing? And who sets what?
No, costs and rates are two very different things. Costs include all of the expenses for the collection services, contractors, disposal fees, operations and processing, local and county fees, and others. RethinkWaste reviews all of the costs, and provides a report to its Member Agencies that shows the obligation for each community. Once they have been approved, these costs are fixed for the upcoming rate year.
Once a Member Agency has this information, it can then set the rates charged to residents and businesses for the upcoming rate year through the Proposition 218 process specified in a prior question.
Why are my Hillsborough garbage rates different than my friend in Foster City? We both have a 32-gallon garbage cart, so shouldn’t they be the same?
Each of the 12 Member Agencies set their own rates annually based on their specific community. Each agency also includes its unique fees such as street sweeping or franchise fees, but each one makes these decisions as to what fees to include on their own. In addition, the cost for providing the services varies based on factors such as housing density and having hilly neighborhoods, so this is also taken into account, as each community is different.
If I’m going to be paying more, why should I recycle or compost? I might as well just throw it in the garbage.
While rates have gone up for most, the cost of not recycling or composting will be much greater. Ox Mountain Landfill is the only landfill in San Mateo County. It is where all of the garbage from RethinkWaste residents and businesses goes, as well as other parts of the County and elsewhere. Once the landfill is full, we will have no choice but to send our garbage far out of County, or some other alternative. Either of these will be extremely costly since it is very expensive to haul garbage to a landfill. The more we collectively reduce our waste through recycling and composting, the longer we will keep Ox Mountain open to send our garbage, which will significantly help keep costs down. And the recycling material in the blue cart generates net revenue instead of a large cost to dispose of solid waste in the black cart.
How do our garbage rates compare to others in the Bay Area?
The communities that make up the RethinkWaste service area historically have had some of the lowest rates throughout the Bay Area, and continue to do so today. A rate survey is done annually on behalf of RethinkWaste to show how we compare against others. A majority of our Member Agencies’ rates for a 32-gallon cart fall at or below the 50thpercentile of the 63 Bay Area cities surveyed. Click here for the most recent Rate Survey.
Where does the money from the recyclables go?
The money received from marketing the recyclables is used to help keep the tip fees for solid waste and organics lower than they otherwise would be. This has a positive impact on garbage rates. This is why it’s important for residents and businesses to set out as much recycling as they can for pick up, because it ultimately is used to help keep rates lower. To learn more, visit the Residential Garbage Rate Info page.