San Jose adds commingling to its recycling mix
“Commingle and conquer.” That was the battle cry of officials in San Jose, Calif., as they planned the July rollout of “Clean ‘n Green San Jose, Services with Curb Appeal.” The program is the latest of the city’s residential recycling initiatives, which — along with commercial recycling efforts — have contributed to a diversion rate that exceeds the state-mandated 50 percent. By allowing residents to commingle recyclables, city officials hope to garner increased household participation and boost diversion even further.
Clean ‘n Green is the outgrowth of a 1998 decision by San Jose’s city council to evaluate exclusive residential collection contracts to ensure competitive costs and customer satisfaction. The city’s Environmental Services Department (ESD) spearheaded the evaluation, looking for ways to elevate collection efficiency and cost-effectiveness, and to boost participation in residential recycling. “The goal was to look over the horizon at the next generation of recycling technologies and services, and make it easier for residents to participate,” says Elaine Leung, manager of residential services for ESD.
To achieve that goal, ESD conducted extensive research, including focus groups and community meetings. The department’s findings pointed to the need for single-stream, or commingled, recycling that would allow residents to place their recyclables in one wheeled cart. (At the time, residents were placing their recyclables in four separate, stationary containers. Because the containers did not have wheels, residents had to carry them to the curb for pickup.)
With that in mind, ESD implemented a year-long pilot program at 10,000 San Jose homes. Half of the households received split carts (accommodating mixed paper in one side and all other recyclables, except yard trimmings, in the other), while the other half received fully commingled carts. The city also tested fully automated collection trucks, comparing their performances to those of semi-automated trucks. Collections were handled by the city’s existing haulers, locally based GreenTeam and Houston-based Waste Management.
According to the city, results of the study showed that:
residents who used the commingled and split carts recycled 10 percent more waste than those who used the four-sort system;
commingling had no adverse impact on the recyclables; and
the fully automated trucks were significantly more efficient than the semi-automated trucks.
With benchmarks provided by the pilot study, ESD issued a Request for Proposals from private waste haulers. The city subsequently awarded five-year contracts to GreenTeam and San Francisco-based Norcal, which together will collect recyclables from 195,000 single-family homes and 85,000 multi-family dwellings.
“The haulers’ contracts include performance guarantees that reward good customer service and ability to meet recycling targets, as well as penalties for failure to meet expectations,” Leung notes. If both companies maintain their performance standards and qualify for two three-year extensions, the contracts could span 11 years, reaching a total value of $344 million. (The city will pay $90 million less for the new contracts than it would have paid to extend the existing contracts 11 years.)
The haulers will use split-body trucks for collection on single-family home routes. The vehicles, which run on diesel derivative fuels, allow for automated co-collection of wheeled recycling and garbage carts in the same trip. Automation will eliminate manual dumping of bins, improving worker safety, and single-trip pickups will reduce wear and tear on the city’s roads.
Residents of multi-family homes will participate in the program by commingling their recyclables in large bins placed in communal areas near traditional garbage dumpsters. The haulers will service those sites in two trips (one for recyclables pickup, one for garbage pickup) using alternative-fuel, single-compartment vehicles.
San Jose has offered residential recycling citywide since 1987. With the implementation of Clean ‘n Green, the city expects to divert approximately 225,000 tons of residential waste from its landfills each year.