MODESTO — Nanci McCall of Modesto wrote to ask about a man poking around in her garbage.
No, not the homeless folks who look for aluminum cans and other recyclables worth money. Those dont belong in the green cans, anyway. This man arrived at her east Modesto home about 9 a.m. one day in a white car that said Code Enforcement on it. Nanci sent her husband out to see what he wanted.
The man walked up to our green yard waste garbage can, which was by the curb waiting to be picked up, and opened it. My husband said there was just cardboard in there. The man said OK. My husband said he should go across the street and tell the people there to clean up their yard. He said, I cant go onto private property. Then he left, without checking out anyone elses garbage can.
Nanci was surprised by the visit.
Is this really what this guys job is? she asked. When the entire city of Modesto looks like a garbage dump, he is driving around checking to make sure I dont put garbage or dead bodies or anything else that doesnt belong in the green garbage bin? We never put anything in there that doesnt belong just yard waste and cardboard. I think I would like that guys job! Ha!
Well, Nanci, its true. There is a 20-hour-a-week employee whose job it is to look into the green waste cans to make sure there arent improper items there. He is not, however, the building code enforcer and cant address items such as overgrown landscaping or other issues.
I agreed with Nanci, that such a job seemed rather bizarre, but I changed my mind after talking with Jocelyn Reed, the solid waste manager for the city of Modesto. Her job is to make sure the city complies with state law, which requires local governments to recover, recycle or transform 50percent of their waste. A recent law eventually raises that target to 75percent.
When folks put items such as cans, bottles or other nonorganic items in the green cans, it can threaten the citys compliance with the law. Weve gotten stuff you wouldnt believe from those cans, Reed said. There was a toilet. We get bricks. We get car parts. Weve had wheels. Its usually stuff like cans and bottles and plastic and just garbage, but theres been some weird things. Weve had huge bits of metal.
And all that extra stuff ruins the shredders at the site where the green garbage gets crunched into compost.
So the department fights the problem in two ways, on the street and at the composting site. In some cases, Reed said, garbage truck drivers will identify a home or a neighborhood that seems to be putting too much trash in the green cans. The part-time employee will either go down the street before the garbage trucks get there and open every can, tagging the ones that contain garbage, or else will check out individual cans.
The other way is we have to pay someone down in compost to pick that stuff out, Reed said. We have to keep the material clean in order to compost it.
And composting the green-can waste is important to meet those waste disposal goals.
Organics are the biggest portion of the citys recycling and waste division, Reed said. We keep it out of the landfill that way. We process about 75,000 tons a year out of the green cans and city street pickups and commercial food wastes.
At one time, the city put out 5-gallon cans for recycling items such as cans, plastic bottles, newspapers and similar products. But people were taking their cash-producing recyclables such as aluminum cans to centers, so the effort wasnt profitable for the city, Reed said. To keep costs low, the City Council decided to go to a two-can system instead. The green cans are for organic waste such as grass, leaves, weeds, limbs, fruits and vegetables, paper napkins and towels, newspapers, magazines and cardboard. Plastics, glass, metals, wood scraps, concrete, rocks and animal waste arent allowed.
Its an awesome system, Reed said. We produce power, recover metals, make compost that we sell in huge quantities; last week, we shipped out 3,000 tons. Were really reducing the dependence on the landfill side of things.
And theres the two-fer benefit: While transforming organic waste into compost reduces the trash taken to landfills, it also raises money to help offset the cost of the program. Last year, we sold $450,000 worth of product. Our expenses last year were $1.3 million.
If the city doesnt meet its law-required targets, the state can come in and slap a noncompliance citation on it. Fines can be as much as $10,000 per day. So, by adhering to the correct organic trash in the green cans, youre helping the city meet its waste targets and helping preserve your tax dollars and landfill area.
A part-time worker looking in your can seems a small price to pay for the benefits received.
Send questions to Sue Nowicki at email@example.com, fax to (209) 578-2207 or mail to P.O. Box 5256, Modesto CA 95352-5256.