Mountain View Voice

Opinion - June 29, 2012

No bidding for new garbage contract

Did the City Council do the right thing by turning down a staff recommendation to open competitive bidding on the city's solid waste and recycling collection contract?

The answer is maybe, although there really is no way to know if the city's 70-year relationship with Recology is the best deal, or whether Green Waste Recovery or Mission Trail Waste Services could have come in with a lower price. But after taking a deep look at the pros and cons, council members decided last week to discard the idea of giving the two companies a chance at unseating Recology, which has offered to hold residential rates to a 1- to 3-percent increase over the next two years, although commercial rates would jump more than 20 percent to cover the cost of a new recycling and food waste collection service.

These are not the final numbers on the approximately $11 million-a-year deal. Now that the decision is made to go with Recology, the city's negotiating team will begin new talks with the company to try to bring costs down further. Recology already has said its prices reflect a two-year freeze on employee wages and has proposed increasing recycling services at a cost comparable to most other cities.

One downside of ruling out competitive bidding is missing the opportunity offered by Green Waste Recovery to use the country's first dry anaerobic digester, which composts organic waste and uses the gas byproduct to make electricity.

The city's double stream method for processing waste is decidedly different than the digester, with trucks hauling garbage and recycling to a Sunnyvale plant where it is processed and the recycled materials are marketed. As a partner in this venture, the city has a vested interest in using the technology, at least until Recology's contract expires in 2021. Single stream recycling, in which bottles, cans and paper are all collected in one bin, would not be compatible with the Sunnyvale facility, a city official told the Voice.

According to a staff report written last year, there are plenty of advantages to signing with Recology, including the continuation of what has been reasonably good service, as well as a savings of $36,000 in the contract with consultants hired to help staff through the negotiations. The downside is not giving other companies a chance to serve Mountain View, although when a new contractor takes over there is a potential for missteps until a new crew learns the ropes.

The next step for council comes in September, when city staff will share specific details of the Recology deal, prior to asking for final approval. If Recology can hold the line on costs as promised in the early going, Mountain View residents should expect good service at a competitive cost over the next eight years. After that, it will be time for the city to move forward with more progressive ideas like anaeroebic digesters and single stream recycling, or newer technologies that could be even more environmentally friendly, hopefully brought to us in a competitive bidding process.

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