It hurts to be a landscape maintenance contractor in Chico, California, right now, according to a story in Chico News & Review.
For instance, Ernie Cox, owner of Chico Landscape Management, used to have plenty of places to dump his green waste. “I did a lot of cleanups, especially in the early days when I got started,” says Cox, who’s been in business since 1987. “It was easy to dump things when it was cheap. But then, prices started rising, and so did (employee) wages.”
When Butte County’s Neal Road Recycling and Waste Facility stopped accepting green waste two years ago, it impacted the capacity of other composting sites, such as the one owned by the city near the Chico Municipal Airport. That facility is now full, having reached its state-mandated maximum capacity of 12,500 cubic yards.
Gov. Jerry Brown and the California state legislature have set a goal of 75 percent recycling, composting or source reduction of solid waste by 2020 to decrease California’s reliance on landfills.
Making things worse is the fact that nobody wants to buy wood refuse anymore.
Landscapers and commercial yard waste haulers have had to take their refuse to facilities in other nearby cities, or fill their clients’ green waste bins, if possible.
The lack of places to take green waste could deal a blow to Cox’s profitability. “If we have to haul it farther away, now you have both the [facility] fee and wages for your employees to travel out and back.”
The city is still able to compost some materials to accommodate residential customers’ needs, according to Linda Herman, the city’s park and natural resources manager.
Herman, who has worked for the city for over 20 years, has noticed that cogeneration facilities that accept wood refuse have been going out of business at an increasing rate lately.
California’s recent drought is part of the problem, and the timing couldn’t be worse. “We don’t have as many [biomass] facilities to take the wood, and we have an increase in material that needs to be processed because of the drought and associated tree mortality,” Herman says.
“If we had an ongoing market for wood, we should have been able to handle the increase of material coming. Sooner or later, it was going to catch up to all of us because of the industry.”
The city’s compost facility recycles18,000 tons of green waste per year. The city is looking at options to reopen it for commercial users, including applying for a seasonal exemption that would exclude the amount of finished compost from the 12,500 cubic-yard maximum capacity.
Adding to local confusion was Waste Management’s decision to announce fee increases at the Chico compost facility that hadn’t been approved by the city.
Herman says people contacted her with complaints, one of them citing an $80 rate increase (the current rate is $5 for the first cubic yard, $1 for each additional). It appeared to be a way to dissuade contractors from dropping off waste, “not necessarily the best approach," she adds.
But fees may go up anyway. Herman says they’ve not been updated much in 20 years, and a lot of things have changed in the green waste business since then.
If fees do increase, landscaping companies will have to pass on the costs to their customers, says Cox. “We will have to charge people accordingly. In the long run it’s the customer that is going to be paying the raises.”