City finally scraps 5-acre wasteland of waste containers

Reggie Ellis

City Council increases contract with company to dispose of 30,000 split trash cans nearly a year after new cans were rolled out

VISALIA – It’s been almost a year since Visalia rolled out its new three-can system for household waste and the city has finally finished disposing of 30,000 discarded trash cans.

At its May 4 meeting, the Visalia City Council approved an increase of $112,000 to the cost of recycling and disposing of about 30,000 trash cans the city decommissioned in its conversion from split cans for trash and recycling to separate trash cans for refuse and recyclables.

The council had originally approved a $51,000 contract with AZS Dependable, Inc. in Visalia in January to grind down the 96-gallon containers into pieces smaller than a lockbox key. After nearly two months of working on the project, AZS discovered that half of the cans yielded a high-quality material that could easily be recycled but the other half contained additives that made the plastic impossible to recycle. In order to sort the cans, AZS hired three additional employees and purchased special tools to identify which cans were recyclable and which were not. The city also agreed to pay the company 10 cents per pound of lost profit on each can, or $73,500. That brought the total cost of the recycling project to $250,000, less than the city’s estimate of $340,000 to take the cans to the landfill and nearly half the lowest bid to pay a company to remove them.

When the city rolled out its new three-can system for trash, recyclable and green waste in the spring of 2019, only 10,000 of the 40,000 split cans could be converted to single cans. The remaining cans were dumped on five acres next to the city’s water reclamation facility west of Highway 99. The public works department soon discovered there was no easy solution to getting rid of the trash cans. Public Works Manager Jim Ross said the problem was 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 cans were a blend of the two, making it difficult to breakdown as the two have different melting temperatures. Even if it was usable, there was 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.

Visalia introduced the split cans in 1989 and initially helped reduce the amount of waste being sent to landfills. As more products became recyclable, Visalia residents no longer had enough space to fit all of their recyclables in the half can. In March 2017, the city council directed staff to proceed with the conversion to three, full-size trash cans after several years of study and discussion. To date, the city has spent about $6 million on the conversion of its waste cans, about $750,000 over its initial estimate from the council’s 2015 feasibility study.

The city estimates the conversion to a three-can system should save the city about $750,000 per year because the cans cost less to replace and repair, the garbage trucks and annual maintenance are less expensive and it cuts down on cross contamination of recyclables.

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