Residents who fail to follow Marion County’s strict new recycling rules could be slapped with a fine of as much as $15.45 per pickup.
“We’re going to monitor everybody a lot more closely,” said Art Kuenzi, manager of Suburban Garbage Service, speaking on behalf of the Mid-Valley Garbage & Recycling Association.
The seven garbage haulers who make up the association told their customers about the new recycling rules and the potential fine in a postcard mailed last week. They also apply to West Salem residents who live in Polk County.
The changes are in response to China’s decision, effective Jan. 1, to stop taking most recyclables from the Western world. China previously took most of Oregon’s recycling.
Now, shredded paper, egg cartons, milk boxes, most plastic containers and a long list of other items are banned from curbside recycling barrels.
The fine has long been allowed under the haulers’ rate schedules, which are approved by cities, Kuenzi said. But it’s previously been used only for blatant, repeat offenders.
“It was a select few that were really bad,” he said. “But now, with the way the recycling markets are, we have to up the ante.”
The fine varies by city, and tops out at $15.45 in Salem.
Drivers monitor the contents of recycling carts through cameras mounted on trucks’ hoppers, Kuenzi said. For repeat offenders, they’ll probably get out and check out what’s in the bin before dumping it. They also may photograph the contents.
Customers will be notified they’ve been fined through a tag left on their cart.
At first, haulers will only fine for things that have never been allowed in the recycling carts, such as plastic bags, diapers or food waste.
“We’re going to start there and at some point in the future we will get down to the new list,” Kuenzi said. “If we’re going to clean up our recycling stream, inappropriate items in the recycling cart are going to get charged.”
There won’t be a waiver if a customer claims someone else threw garbage in their recycling cart, Kuenzi said. But first-time offenders may get a reduced fine.
“We’re not here just to penalize people,” he said. “Our goal is to clean up the recycling stream so the people who are recycling right aren’t paying for the offenders.”
Marion County announced the recycling changes March 2. They’ve been unpopular with many customers, who say they should now be charged less for recycling or be allowed a larger trash cart.
“We have a 90-gallon recycling barrel that’s now less than one-third full. We have a 30-gallon trash can and now I need a 90-gallon trash can,” said Jayme Lebahn, of West Salem. “That’s $22 more. That’s an exorbitant amount more to pay for trash.”
Lebahn said she has not been able to get answers about pricing justification from either Marion County or her hauler, Republic Services.
Marion County officials said they were unable to comment Monday.
But Kuenzi said haulers won’t cut prices for recycling. Instead, they’re working with the county and cities to explore imposing a recycling surcharge.
“We have never been paid for recyclables (in an) amount that offsets the cost for us,” he said. “For all the equipment and manpower we use to collect recycling, now that we’re not getting paid to deliver our recyclables, we’re getting a bill.”
Garten Services takes about half of Marion County’s recycling.
It used to be able to cover the cost of sorting and hauling recycling by selling the commodities, Garten spokeswoman Gaelen McAllister said.
“Now, in some cases we have to pay to send stuff to be recycled,” she said. “So, we’re passing those charges back to the haulers.”
Since Oct. 1, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality has allowed 22 recycling processors, including Garten Services, to burn or dump recyclables. They’ve disposed of a total of 19 million pounds of materials that previously would have been recycled.
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