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Council ratifies changes to garbage collection system
• Third can will be part of routine after Jan. 1
Trash can in Ceres yard
Ceres residents will not be permitted to place garbage containers in public view under new changes to the Ceres Municipal Code. It's an important change given that Ceres households will have a third container to deal with after Jan. 1, 2022. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER/ Courier file photo

Come Jan. 1, 2022, Ceres residents will be dealing with a third 90-gallon garbage container for their organic wastes. The Ceres City Council on Monday voted 3-1 to comply with the onerous recycling mandates handed down by state lawmakers that are adding a $1 million expense to the city and its residents.

The council approved changes to the Ceres Municipal Code and the city’s contract with Bertolotti Disposal to enact changes to the way Ceres residents manage the waste coming from their homes and yards. Two weeks ago the council was deadlocked in a 2-2 tie in approving the changes but Councilwoman Linda Ryno supported the changes on Monday.

The council and city staff fielded a number of questions from residents and accepted their comments. Councilman Bret Silveira then motioned for approval.

“This has been in the works for I guess, a year, year and a half, two years and there’s a lot of moving parts to this and a lot of staff time and Bertolotti time and effort that we only have six months now to make it happen,” said Silveira. “We appreciate everybody’s input, their concern if they have it but we need to do this, we need to move this forward.”

Vice Mayor Couper Condit voted “nay” without explanation.

The changes, which take effect at the start of next year, call for each Ceres household to use three Toters. The black container will be for household waste; the blue container for recyclables including, aluminum cans, glass bottles and jars, plastic jugs and bottles; and the green can for organics, such as leaves, grass clippings, weeds, newsprint, cardboard, paper, junk mail, garden waste, tree pruning, shrubs, food waste and food-soiled paper. Each container will be labeled to remind residents what can and cannot be placed in each can until it becomes routine.

The council also decided to return to the former policy which forbids residents from storing their garbage containers in public view when they are not at the curb for collection.

Another primary change is that the city will continue to offer the leaf and limb program but only seasonally and not year round. The new leaf and limb season will run Oct. 1 to Jan. 9.

While some residents view dealing with a third can as a hassle, the city hopes they’ll see it as a blessing since they’ll have more capacity for green waste. Residents will be less tempted to dump lawn clippings in the gutter – which is illegal – since those and leaves can now go in the green organics can and not take up space in the regular household waste can.

Damas said the extra container should also result in fewer cans being set at the curb overfilled with the lids unable to be closed. Bertolloti crews have long been instructed to not pick up overstuffed cans.

Some residents expressed concern about the ability to face fines if they overstuff their garbage cans or continually place the wrong items in cans. However, Public Works Director Jeremy Damas said that cities are not required to issue citations and fine citizens who continue to ignore the rules; but cities are required under Assembly Bill 1383 to have language in their municipal code to exact fines for enforcement targeting habitual offenders.

The fine structure being implemented includes:

• Up to a $500 fine for pilfering and scavenging;

• Fines for illegal dumping (which includes placing grass clippings in the street) that starts out as a warning, second $25, third $100, fourth $250.

• Collection cart contamination that starts out as a warning, second $25, third $100, fourth $250. Or habitual offenders can be prosecuted as a misdemeanor.

Damas said fines would only come “after multiple conversations, multiple notices, warnings issued.”

“And there’s going to be a grace period of six months to a year before we do anything to residents,” said Damas. “We’ve got to get out there and educate.”

Cara Morgan of CalRecycle said the state can start enforcement Jan. 1, 2022 and if cities need more time to educate can start enforcing in 2024.

Lawmakers and the governor have adopted a series of bills, some of which have been in effect for decades. AB 939, for example, was passed in 1989 and mandates that cities cut their waste streams in half. The laws have increased and now the state mandates 75 percent of a city’s waste to be diverted away from landfills. Damas said Ceres has diverted about 25 percent from landfills for far and expects that number to jump once organics collection is in place.

Ceres resident John Osgood blasted the city for raising rates to help Bertolloti buy new trucks and the 12,000 containers to accommodate the extra can. Damas said the cost of the required extra equipment is part of the contract expense just like any other contract. Osgood condemned the city for not putting the garbage contract out to bid, however the city is not required to seek bids on professional contracts, noted City Attorney Tom Hallinan. Osgood also ranted about being “disrespected” at a past meeting when he mentioned garbage incineration as being a factor in diverting waste away from landfills.

Only 32 percent of Ceres’ waste was incinerated at the Covanta waste-to-energy plant in Crows Landing during the first quarter of 2021. The remaining 68 percent, or 5,832 tons, was diverted to the Fink Road Landfill. The county, Modesto and other cities receive a 10 percent credit by the state for the waste diverted from landfills. The county and the cities are obligated to send at least 243,300 tons of garbage to the burner each year, of which half comes from Modesto.

AB 341 requires businesses and public agencies which generate four cubic yards or more of waste per week to arrange for recycling services to divert 75 percent of the waste stream away from landfills. Targeted is food waste, green waste, landscaping and pruning waste and other non-hazardous waste. Businesses may haul themselves, or arrange for pickup of recyclable materials. Such diversions will cause some challenges for businesses to “fill out forms and go online just to document what they are doing,” said Damas.