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Grand jury recycles blue bag controversy

Again, recommendation is to drop them
By: Gus Thomson Journal Staff Writer
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A Placer County grand jury report is putting renewed pressure on participating communities, including Auburn, to toss out programs that now see residents bagging recyclables. The jury is asking for a second straight year that Auburn, Lincoln, Loomis and Placer County eliminate their so-called Blue Bag programs. The report says the Material Recovery Facility that takes the bags as well as unprocessed trash is efficient enough to pull recyclables from the waste stream and blue bag benefits are marginal. But Auburn’s representative on the county’s Local Solid Waste Task Force said he’ll continue to advocate keeping the bag program. Auburn City Councilman Bill Kirby said he’d like to see local communities consider expanding recycling efforts to possibly include household food materials. He added that the blue bag program helps foster home efforts to keep materials out of the waste stream. The grand jury report follows tours of the Western Placer Waste Management Authority Material Recovery Facility in Roseville, research into recycling rates and discussions with waste authorities. It concluded in a report released last month that there is “no evidence the time, effort or money spent on the Blue Bag Programs by residents contributed anything significant toward achieving the recycling goals of the jurisdictions.” But Kirby said that he and other City Council members voted unanimously when the issue was first broached a year ago to keep the program because it’s an important gesture that keeps recycling in people’s minds. “The bottom line is we understand blue bags are probably not the most efficient way to do things,” Kirby said. But the popular program – 67,000 blue bags were turned in by Auburnites in 2007 – is worth it in terms of encouraging waste reduction behavior patterns, he said. Extrapolating the use of 52 blue bags a year for weekly pickups, Auburn – with a population of about 12,000 – would have about 1,300 households taking part. Lincoln is also resisting the grand jury recommendations. Like Auburnites, Lincoln residents are provided with free bags. The city pays $26,000 per year for the bags, which are picked up at city hall. In Auburn, the bags are delivered upon request. The grand jury points out that blue bags comprise a “very small percentage” of the total volume of processed refuse at the Roseville area Material Recovery Facility on Fiddyment Road. The facility is operated under contract by Nortech Waste Inc. and under the authority of the Western Placer Waste Management Authority. The authority is a joint-powers authority that includes representation from participating cities and Placer County, which own the adjoining regional landfill. Jim Durfee, Western Placer Waste Management Authority executive director, said he didn’t see the issues changing much from last year’s grand jury report, when his board chose to make no response to the recommendation. Instead, the authority remains supportive as long as those agencies elect to continue their involvement in the program. “Although the blue bags themselves (not the contents) are not currently marketable as a recyclable commodity and are landfilled, a majority of the contents within the bag are successfully recovered,” Durfee told the jury last year in an official response. “Although they represent only a small fraction of the overall waste processed at the MRF, due to the relatively high recovery rate achieved from the blue-bagged materials, the program serves to marginally decrease waste.” The grand jury gives jurisdictions 60 days to respond to its recommendations. The Journal’s Gus Thomson can be reached at gust@goldcountrymedia.com.