Some residents grumbled about "garbage police" during public meetings and said they didn't want garbage collectors sifting through their trash.
Given the opposition, staff has opted to spend two years educating customers as its primary tool for reducing the amount of recyclable goods that residents dump into garbage containers, Public Works Director Glenn Roberts told the City Council's Policy and Services Committee Tuesday night.
"There has been expression of concern about privacy and 'garbage Gestapo,'" Roberts said. "It's clearly not our intent to go to that level."
Staff estimated that about 43 percent of the materials in local trash bins is actually recyclable.
The previous plan called for a year of educating residents, with enforcement following in the second year. Enforcement — triggered when more than one-tenth of the garbage receptacle is filled with recyclable goods — would have included several notices before the city issued a fine and, in the most extreme cases, suspended its garbage-collection service.
Staff's revised plan, which was presented to the committee Tuesday night, calls for education first. After two years, staff would evaluate the program's results and, if needed, return to the council to discuss a possible enforcement mechanism.
Even the education component, however, would entail some quick glances by garbage collectors into the containers they pick up. According to a new report from the Public Works Department, this is not any different from what garbage collectors do now.
"Garbage and recycling drivers currently perform a cursory visual check of garbage and recyclables containers to make sure they don't contain prohibited material (e.g. hazardous materials, contaminants in recycling carts)," the reports states. "If prohibited materials are observed, the collector leaves a tag describing the issue and the corrective action required.
"The feedback process for personalized education would merely be an extension of this current activity — garbage collectors will just look at what can be seen when they open the container to take it to the truck for dumping.
"It will not involve opening garbage bags or auditing garbage," the report adds in underlined text.
Commercial customers, meanwhile, would face greater pressure to comply, according to the new recycling ordinance. Staff estimated that only 55 percent of the city's commercial customers currently recycle and recommended creating a "compliance component" for these customers in the ordinance, which is expected to be reviewed by the City Council in late summer or early fall.
The compliance component for commercial customers would include four steps, including two notices, a fine of up to $50 and, ultimately, curtailing of garbage collection. Staff proposed focusing on education in the first year of the ordinance and implementing the enforcement mechanism for commercial customers in the second year.
The council committee was generally supportive of the staff proposal, with Chair Yiaway Yeh and Councilwoman Gail Price advocating more positive incentives for complying. Councilwoman Nancy Shepherd wondered if the enforcement component for residents could be put in place sooner.
But Rene Eyerly, the city's solid-waste manager, said the message staff received from city residents was clear: They do not want garbage collectors looking through their garbage and issuing tickets.
"We did back off because of so many people with strong concerns," Eyerly said. "They felt they still need more education."
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