When garbage stops being garbage
Changes to the definition of garbage could bust the Waste Management monopoly in Northern Nevada.
The Washoe County District Board of Health wants to define garbage like this, with our italics showing an important new distinction: “Garbage means putrescible animal and vegetable wastes resulting from the handling, storage, sale, preparation, cooking and serving of food and beverage, excluding any solid waste that is recyclable material.”
Waste Management has an exclusive franchise agreement on garbage in the Truckee Meadows, but not on recycling, though recycling is among its services.
“We’ve really been trying to work with the stakeholders on this definition so we don’t give preferential treatment to any one company,” says county environmental health specialist supervisor Jeanne Rucker.
So, say something once considered garbage, like food scraps from a restaurant or supermarket, is shown to have value by taking it to a composting operation. Those food scraps stop being garbage and start being valuable. Castaway Trash Hauling is already doing that. If other things can be plucked from the garbage—yard waste, metals, building materials—and taken to a waste recovery facility, they too become something of value, not garbage.
The proposed new definition will be heard June 23 at the district board of health meeting and could go into effect this summer.
“We’re obviously against it,” says Waste Management spokesperson Justin Caparusso. “It’s kind of a blatant move to break the franchise agreement.” He says doing so would also hurt customers. “It’ll erode our business, which supports our low rates. So it’s a real threat to the consumers in the region because their rates are affected by the things we provide service for.”
Caparusso says Waste Management is eager to improve local recycling options. For instance, single-stream recycling allows residents to throw both recyclables and non-recyclables together to be sorted out in a facility. It’s significantly increased recycling participation rates in Incline Village and in a pilot program in Reno a few years ago. Caparusso says WM would also like to build a waste recovery facility off Commercial Row on land that’s already purchased—if only local decision-makers would give them the go-ahead. But Washoe County and the city of Reno, reluctant to raise prices on ratepayers, have not made single-stream recycling a priority. However, under this new definition, other businesses could weigh in with competitive proposals, not just on single-stream programs, but also a variety of waste recovery options.
“I suspect there will be people that will present plans to us to build a waste recovery facility,” says Rucker. “Waste Management may be one of them.”
As for the franchise agreements, Rucker says, “The definitions of how the franchise agreements were awarded were from many, many years ago when that made perfect sense, and they provided a much needed service for this community.” Some of them go back to the 1970s, before the region had recycling or mandatory garbage service. “I want to be careful not to make it sound like we don’t appreciate Waste Management. What’s occurring is an evolution over time of how waste can be used.”