Stanislaus County will do a study of what goes into the Fink Road landfill to determine if more of it could be recycled.
But before the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the $69,370 study, officials debated whether the county could afford a new recycling program.
Board Chairman Tom Mayfield raised questions about the study, saying he feared it would lead to another costly program.
The county is meeting the state mandate to recycle 50 percent of the material thrown away, Mayfield noted, and a recent study shows the landfill has enough capacity for the next 100 years.
"This could use up $1 million a year if the county gets into it," Mayfield said of a new recycling program. "Let someone in the private sector do it."
Other supervisors and county Chief Executive Officer Rick Robinson said legislation is introduced annually to raise the recycling requirement to 75 percent.
"It's imperative that we do this study," Supervisor Jeff Grover said. "If we do go forward with $2 million to $5 million in capital outlays for a recycling center, we need to identify as much of a revenue stream as we can."
Supervisor Bill O'Brien said he believes the state eventually will increase the recycling mandate.
"It makes sense to find out what's in there," he said. "The regulations are going to change, whether it's this year or next year. We need to be ready to change."
Sonya Harrigfeld, director of the Department of Environmental Resources, said the study is necessary for the county to understand what the options are for recycling.
"The proper solution may be to continue to go to the dump," she said. "We need the information to make the decision intelligently."
Some recycling done now uses private contractors, Harrigfeld noted, including a company that picks up used tires at the landfill. The study will look at materials such as branch trimmings, scrap wood and concrete, rather than bottles and aluminum cans, she said.
The landfill takes in 300 to 600 tons a day, Harrigfeld said. The county's waste-to-energy incinerator handles 600 to 800 tons a day, she said. The study will just look at the landfill material.
Mayfield reluctantly agreed to the study. "I'll vote 'yes,' but I'm not too crazy about it," he said.
Bee staff writer Tim Moran can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2349.