Blue bags get thumbs up from garbage officials |

Blue bags get thumbs up from garbage officials

Adam Jensen
Adam Jensen / Tahoe Daily TribuneSouth Tahoe Refuse Company swamper Andres Munoz collects garbage from in front of a home on Modesto Avenue on Tuesday morning.

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – Despite a pair of glitches, South Tahoe Refuse Company officials are considering their curbside recycling program a success after about 18 months of operation.

The “blue bag program” – as it is known – began in a few neighborhoods of South Lake Tahoe in January 2009 and expanded throughout the South Shore in April 2009.

Under the program, the refuse company distributes about 10,000 blue bags a month to residents to separate recyclable materials from non-recyclable waste.

Glass and paper recycling numbers have remained about the same since the curbside recycling program’s inception, but the program has helped increase the amount of plastic and aluminum the refuse company is able to keep out of landfills, said Jeanne Lear, the refuse company’s human resources manager.

In 2009 the refuse company’s Material Recovery Facility recycled an additional 111.2 tons of plastic and 9.2 more tons of aluminum compared to 2008, according to figures provided by Lear.

Refuse company officials have noted a pair of problems with the program since its inception: bringing second homeowners into the fold and theft.

The percentage of part-time residents at the South Shore is difficult to pinpoint, but John Marchini, the refuse company’s operations manager, estimated about 60 percent of homes in the area are occupied for only some of the year.

The biggest hurdle with part-time residents is letting them know the blue bag program exists and getting them to call the refuse company to get started, Marchini said.

The “biggest negative” with the program has been the amount of theft the company has experienced after people have taken their bags full of recyclables out for collection, Marchini said.

“There’s times when they’ll go through complete service areas,” Marchini said.

While the material is still getting recycled, Marchini said the practice is problematic because it creates gaps in people’s participation.

Because residents only receive a new blue bag after they put a full one out, the theft of blue bags has generated a slew of phone calls from residents wondering why their blue bags were not replaced.

The refuse company has contacted police regarding the theft in an attempt to log license plate numbers and have encouraged residents to take trash out in the morning rather than leaving it out overnight to combat the activity, Marchini said.

The refuse company is also looking at a number of ways to keep a larger percentage of waste originating from the South Shore out of area landfills.

The state mandates diversion rates of 50 percent, and South Lake Tahoe’s stated goal is 55 percent.

For the past five years, South Tahoe Refuse has diverted an average of 44 percent of the waste it receives from the landfill. The current diversion rate is 39 percent.

Marchini attributed the drop in diversion rates to an anemic construction environment at the South Shore preventing the heavy metal and wood materials that bolster weight-dependent diversion rates from being brought to the company’s Material Recovery Facility.

The refuse company is hopeful it will gain several percentage points in diversion from its Resource Recovery Facility, which opened in April and processes organic waste to turn into compost and mulch.

The refuse company is also working on a food waste recycling pilot program with Aramark and Embassy Suites to examine how much such a program would cost and determine how much waste could be diverted if the program was expanded.

Efforts are also underway to get the blue bag program into public facilities, like schools, and create a pilot program for apartment complexes, Lear said.

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