City Manager, Rachelle Rickard

By: City Manager, Rachelle Rickard

When Atascadero residents recently received their statement from Atascadero Waste Alternatives (AWA), they likely noticed that their two-month billing for recycling and green waste disposal rates had gone up. The rate change is due to an increase in the pass-through fee paid to North San Luis Obispo County Recycling (NSLOCR), who is our local provider for the State-mandated, legally required processing of recycling and green waste (the blue and green bins), and which was last changed back in 2014. The City Council approved the recent increase at their February 26, 2019 meeting, after considering many important elements which included the fact that over the course of the past five years, the recycling market has undergone a great deal of change.

Recycling legislation in California is governed by the State and every community is required to comply with current State law. Historically, export of recyclable materials has been a key element of California’s recycling program. However, recent changes to international policies restricting foreign imports of recyclable materials, together with the need to reduce contamination levels in recycling streams and a severely declining global market, have resulted in significant challenges for the solid waste and recycling industry, local governments, and all Californians.

Most recyclable material had historically been exported to China for processing and manufacturing into new products. With a drastically reduced market demand due to China’s strict new contamination limits and ever-increasing import bans, recycling facilities are being forced to stockpile material. This surplus of materials is driving prices for recyclables to historic lows, which has impacted the ability of operators to offset their operating costs with revenue generated from the sales of recyclables overseas. As the recycler’s ability to generate revenues from the sale of these materials decreases, they have been required to drastically increase their fees, just stay in business.

In addition to severe declines to the market and the fact that certain items that used to be considered recyclable materials are no longer marketable, another very big factor for increased recycling rates is that a large percentage of the materials put into the blue recycling bins are not actually recyclable and are considered contamination. The increasingly high rate of contamination is primarily due to what’s known as “wishful recycling”, which are items that are put in the recycling container because the customer believes that the item is recyclable (i.e., plastic bags, various non-recyclable paper materials and plastics, etc.); and “willful contamination” which often happens because the customer has run out of room in their garbage cart and throws excess garbage in with their recycling. The huge increase in recycling contamination is certainly not unique to our community and there are steps everyone can take to help reduce it, which in turn could help to reduce the rates paid for recycling services in the future. Items that should NOT put in the blue recycling bin include plastic bags, food scraps, scrap metal, frozen food boxes, paper cups, diapers, garden hoses, shredded paper, foam, clothing, dishes and broken glass. All of these items present huge issues for many reasons to the recycling processor.  In order to address this problem, the City Council will soon be considering the approval of an additional “contamination fee”, which, if approved, would be charged to residents for excessive or continued contamination and would also be collected by AWA. To help prevent possible future contamination fees, I highly encourage all Atascadero residents to review and follow the recycling guidelines published on the IWMA website at What-to-do/curbside.

As always, please feel free to contact me for additional information about this or any other topic related to the City, at