It’s been eight months since Milpitas Sanitation took over from Republic Services to manage the city’s waste and recycling services. For some Milpitians, the change has been difficult and challenging to the brink of full-blown frustration. Their reviews on the Milpitas Sanitation Facebook page and its parent company’s Garden City Yelp page show that Milpitas Sanitation’s relationship with the public has been rocky, to say the least. The main complaints center on the smaller bin sizes and higher prices. Residents feel they’re paying more for less, while being asked to do more work sorting through their trash, recycling, and food scraps.
“It’s been eight months and I feel that with any new roll-out you’re going to have some hiccups,” stated Kelli Pellegrini, Milpitas Sanitation’s Communication and Outreach Manager. Pellegrini admitted that the initial roll-out didn’t go as smoothly as they had hoped: “The sheer number of carts to deliver in a short period of time, that was challenging…but I think overall, we’re doing pretty well. It’s a huge change for Milpitas and I’m really proud of the residents for giving us their best and doing the program and I think we have a ways to go, we still have a lot of contamination but — I think we’re on our way.”
The decision to move away from Republic Services in 2016 made for a hot-button issue for most Milpitas households, and split the city council 3–2, in favor of Milpitas Sanitation. During the public forum, many Milpitians expressed the belief that Republic Services, which uses nearby Newby Island for its waste disposal, was to blame for the odor issues. By awarding Milpitas Sanitation the city’s contract, they would be moving Milpitas’ waste to a landfill further away from the city limits, which would have a tangible effect on the odor problem — or so they thought.
According to Councilmember Marsha Grilli, the decision to move from Republic Services to Milpitas Sanitation stemmed from a two-year-long process that took into account studies, public opinion, and the state mandate to reduce waste. The state has set a goal for all cities and counties to divert 75% of their waste to recycled materials by 2020. Grilli warned of consequences to the city if they did not divert their waste to the tune of $10,000 a day, and that historically “our past diversion rates were low.”
Grilli also commented that the decision to go with Milpitas Sanitation had nothing to do with Measure L, which allowed the city to continue to use Waste Management’s landfill in South San Jose. Nor was the decision based on the odor issue, which according to Grilli “had nothing to do with it.” She also stated that “change is difficult and some people don’t understand why we had to make the decision that we did.”
A survey conducted by SCS Engineers in May 2016 indicated that roughly 57-59% of Milpitians would be OK with split carts for recycling and food scraps, as long as it didn’t cost extra, while 20% wouldn’t utilize the split bins at all.
On a recent ride-along with Milpitas Sanitation, The Milpitas Beat discovered firsthand how things were going with the still-relatively-new system in place. According to Milpitas Sanitation driver Fernando Albarez, about 20%, or 126 of the 630 households that put out their recycle bins, correctly sort their recyclables. The 80% that don’t create cross-contamination, which causes more work at the sorting facility, according to Pellegrini. During the ride-along, we noted that roughly 1 in 5 households required Albarez to stop and place information cards on the bins, to remind residents of the sorting requirements.
The new trucks that Milpitas Sanitation purchased for the split carts have monitors inside their cabs, allowing drivers to see exactly what is coming out of each cart as it’s being unloaded into the truck. In the recycling trucks is a split compartment that sorts both sides of the split cart. The video footage shared below makes it clear that this is not an exact science, as materials from each bin frequently end up in the wrong compartment.
Still, according to Pellegrini, “We have diverted over 1,300 tons of food scraps since we have started that would be normally going to the landfill, and that equals to 9 pounds per household per week.”
When asked about the rate increase scheduled for next year, Pellegrini stated, “If you do a cost comparison across all the other cities in the Bay Area, Milpitas is still the cheapest based on the medium cart size, which is the most common size in the city.”
In response to the harsh criticism Milpitas Sanitation has received thus far, Pelligrini contemplated, “I think that all of us together have to do more work to try and improve the programs that we have. You’ll see this everywhere, in all cities in the Bay Area, not just for Milpitas and it’s not just for California; it’s our entire country is going to have to do a better job in sorting our recyclables and thinking about the waste we create and try to make less of it…Milpitas is ahead of the game and did a great job in putting this forward, and they’re a good example to all the other Bay Area cities.”
Pelligrini further went on to state, “There is a lot of negative feedback, but I also do talk to a majority of people that are happy with the program. They’re happy to try and make an effort and try to improve the environment and think about what they throw away, and it helps them think about it. Their kids are very involved, and I think overall, most people I talk to are happy.”
When The Milpitas Beat asked Albarez what he’d like Milpitians to know, he stated, “[We can] work together, make things better. A little bit of effort doesn’t hurt.” And as for Pelligrini, she’d like Milpitians to know “that they’re doing a good job.
“We’re proud of their efforts and they’re making a difference.”
To learn more about Milpitas Sanitation, including what to put where, visit their FAQ page at: https://www.milpitassanitation.com/residential/setouttips/