Rather than raise trash rates, Waste Management of New Mexico trash collection service has proposed fining customers who put trash in their recycling bins or overfill their trash cans, but most Rio Rancho Governing Body members said the rules were too vague and would cause too many complaints.
On a 5-1 vote during their meeting Thursday night, Rio Rancho Governing Body members opposed changes to the city’s contract with Waste Management. They directed the company and city staff to clarify language and bring back the amendments at their June 10 meeting.
Waste Management Public Sector Solutions New Mexico Manager Dan Darnell said overloading and recycling contamination were causing costs higher than what current trash bills cover, and the company needed to recover the expense.
Councilor Jeremy Lenentine cast the vote in favor of the new “Smart Truck program.”
“I like that we’re not trying to penalize everyone,” he said, adding that he knew the changes would generate complaints.
The fines would have been $4.33 per incident, after two warnings. Some people won’t change their behavior until they get hit in the pocketbook, Lenentine added.
Mayor Gregg Hull wanted Waste Management to beta test the Smart Trucks for 60 days to educate people, but not alter to contract to allow fines.
“I know every time we do something with Waste Management, we’re going to get complaints,” he said.
Darnell said that since April 2020, when pandemic lockdowns started, the amount of residential trash and recyclable materials to be picked up has increased. It peaked at 35 percent above previous normal levels last June and then stabilized around 25 percent above normal.
Also, after trash is sorted out of recyclable materials at Friedman Recycling in Albuquerque, Waste Management has to haul it to the landfill. Darnell said that hauling costs three times as much as taking trash straight from the curb to the landfill.
Waste Management has been covering the added costs because the its part of the community, and community members were in the pandemic together, Darnell said. Also, managers didn’t know when the amounts might change.
“The reality is, Waste Management can’t continue to pay for overages not covered in the rates,” he said.
Darnell said the proposal to fine individual offenders is meant to contain costs and avoid raising trash rates, which would penalize people who weren’t causing the problem.
When Hull asked how many homes routinely have “egregious violations,” Darnell gave an anecdotal estimate of 15-25 percent.
“The object is to pay for the disposal on the overage, so we came up with the number (of $4.33) that’s a quarter of the monthly rate,” said Darnell, adding that Waste Management staff wanted to create an incentive for good behavior without being punitive.
He said the contract with the city already allows truck drivers to not collect overloaded containers or contaminated recycling, but they usually only leave containers that the truck’s lifting arm, which is rated to carry about 200 pounds, cannot pick up.
How it works
In the Smart Truck program, cameras on garbage trucks photograph and video record the contents of each receptacle and the images are linked to an address via GPS. Two people must separately review the footage to confirm a violation before fines can be levied.
Customers would be able to see the images and appeal fines.
Waste Management Four Corners Area Communications Director Jennifer Wargo said the company has used the Smart Truck technology with commercial service for years and started it with residential service in 2020 in California.
“We have an experienced team in place to review the photos and videos, and support our customer education,” she said. “This team will support our Smart Truck program in New Mexico.”
Darnell recommended a two-month period to teach people about the program and how to avoid fines, as well as to make sure the technology was accurately aligning addresses with recorded images. Customers would receive warnings for violations but no fines during that time.
After the education period, people could get two warnings during a rolling 12-month period. On the third and subsequent violations, Waste Management could levy the fine.
If a customer over-filled containers six or more times in 12 months after the education period, Waste Management could add a second trash cart to the service and increase the person’s bill accordingly.
Councilor Karissa Culbreath said she wanted a reward for good behavior in the form of about 5 percent cash back on bills, along with the fines. Lenentine said trash rates might have to increase to pay for the reward.
Councilor Bob Tyler said he thought people needed a six-month education period.
“Being a law enforcement officer for a long time, I know you’re not going to change behavior in 60 days,” he said.
Tyler and Councilor Paul Wymer asked for clarifications in the definitions of overloading and recycling contamination.
The proposed amendments defined an overage as refuse or recyclable materials that fill the container so that the lid is lifted 10 inches or more, are on top of a closed lid or are on the ground near the container. Recycling contamination would be determined by visual inspection.
Rio Ranchoan John Pearse opposed the amendments because recycling pickup was decreased to every other week in 2019. He said that change made it more likely people would overfill containers, and fines might discourage recycling.
In 2019, the governing body voted to decrease recycling pickup to limit a trash rate increase to 18 cents a month, as opposed to 68 cents a month more for weekly service.
Recyclable materials through Waste Management curbside pickup:
- Folded cardboard and paperboard.
- Paper that isn’t shredded.
- Plastic bottles, jugs, tubs and jars.
- Aluminum, tin or steel food and beverage bottles and cans.
All of the above must be clean and dry enough not to contaminate surrounding materials. Don’t worry about labels on containers or tape on cardboard boxes.
Unrecyclable materials considered contamination in curbside pickup:
- Plastic bags, wrap or film, including bags used to hold recyclable material. (These clog machinery at recycling facilities. Put items into the recycling bin loose.)
- Plastic plant pots.
- Flexible packaging such as chip bags and soup or juice pouches.
- Paper towels, napkins, plates, cups or tissues.
- (To recycle glass, customers must bring it separately to the Waste Management Landfill, 1132 Carpenter St., during regular business hours of 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 7:30 a.m. to noon Saturday.)
- Batteries, paint products, household chemical and
aerosol cans. (These are considered household hazardous waste. Rio Rancho customers can sign up at WMAtYourDoor.com to have such items picked up separately at no extra charge and disposed of safely.)
- Foam cups, containers and packing material.
- Green/yard waste.
- Textiles, furniture or carpet.
- Food or liquids.
- Electronics and small appliances.
- “Tanglers” such as hoses, string, holiday lights, hangers or extension cords. (They can tangle up equipment in recycling facilities.)
- Tires or auto parts.
- Scrap metal.
- Concrete, wood or construction debris.
- Non-recyclable plastic, including shower curtains, plastic lids for disposable paper cups, children’s pools and toys.
Source: Waste Management