City may get break in sea of trash cans

Three recycling companies respond to city’s request to get rid of 30,000 trash cans dumped following cities conversion from split cans to separate, full-size cans for refuse and recycling

By Reggie Ellis

VISALIA – The one positive to having a wasteland of trash cans is that it gets people’s attention.

Public works manager Jim Ross was happy to report to the City Council at its Dec. 16 meeting that the city has been contacted by more than a dozen companies interested in recycling the 30,000 trash cans piled at the edge of its waste water treatment facility west of Highway 99. Ross told the council his department received three proposals to reuse, recycle or dispose of the cans and that he anticipates bringing a formal action to the council sometime next month.

That was far more interest than the city received the first time it went out to bid to recycle the cans. When the city issued its initial request for proposals to over 75 companies in July, not one submitted a bid to recycle the cans and only one bid was submitted to haul the cans to a landfill. Due to the $472,000 price tag to dispose of them, Ross recommended the council reject the bid and hold onto the trash cans until they can be recycled or removed from the site.

Ross even reached out to other cities to take the containers, provided samples to potential recyclers, consulted with state recycling officials, hosted site visits with recycling firms and even tried giving them away, but no one was interested.

The thousands of 96-gallon cans are the last remnants of the city’s conversion from trash cans split between refuse and recyclables to a three-can system giving every resident a large can each for recycling, refuse and green waste. The city was only able to convert 10,000 of the 40,000 split cans in use by residents to single use cans during the shift last spring. The remaining 30,000 dumped across 5 acres at the Water Reclamation Facility.

Ross said the problem is a combination of the material of which they are made and the void left in the global recycling market. Like most plastics, the trash cans are made from polyethylene. The material is recyclable but only when it is separated into high- and medium-density versions.

The can is a blend of the two, making it difficult to breakdown as the two have different melting temperatures. Even if it was usable, there is no one to take the material. Ross said China decided to begin limiting its purchase of other country’s recycled material in 2018, leaving cities without the world’s largest and most consistent buyer of recyclables.

While there was no formal timeline, Ross was concerned with getting rid of the cans before the raining season. If left out in the rain, the 96-gallon cans will collect a lot of standing water which could become a massive breeding ground for mosquitoes and a major public health hazard.

To date, the city has spent $5.75 million on the conversion of its waste cans, about $500,000 of its initial estimate. 

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