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Republic Services shares details about new fines, ‘contamination tags’

By Mike Hazlip—
More than a year after controversial state legislation mandating organic waste recycling went into effect, Republic Services is now set to begin fining households in Citrus Heights that are found to have significant contamination in waste carts.

During a June 8 City Council meeting, Republic Services spokeswoman Annah Rulon outlined efforts the company has taken to educate residents about waste contamination in the months leading up to cart inspections. Rulon said a $22 “process fee” will be added to the bills of customers found to have a significant amount of contamination, with the first fines set to begin “very soon.”

“In January of this year, Republic Services technically was allowed to start fining residents who had severe contamination in their carts,” Rulon said. “We did build in a six-month grace period… but because of hesitations from the community and our great partnership with your city staff, we still have not fined anyone to this day.”

Rulon clarified that an inspector will lift the lids of carts and look for and take photos of any contamination, but will not take items out of the carts. If the inspector finds the cart is not properly sorted, Republic Services will first leave an educational tag on the cart with instructions. Customers who are found to have ongoing contamination could see the fine applied to their next billing cycle, she said.

“The intent is not to penalize people who are trying to do the program correctly,” Rulon said.

Residents are subject to the fine if any contamination is found in any of the carts, she said. Before Senate Bill 1383, Rulon said the trash cart was the “default” catch-all for items that were not organic or recyclable. That is no longer the case, she said, and the auditor will be looking for contamination in that cart as well. Putting clean recyclable material or organic waste in the garbage cart is considered contamination.

Residents have an opportunity to contact Republic Services if they feel the fine is unwarranted, Rulon said.

Republic Services media campaign has included in-person presentations to various community groups, print mailers, online and social media announcements, and a video specific to Citrus Heights residents, according to the presentation.

Rulon also offered some tips based on lessons learned over the last year of organic recycling.

“We had one idea of what the program was going to look like and now a year into it, we’ve learned some things,” she said.

For residents concerned about pests and odor, she recommended using two BPI certified compostable bags filled about half-way to prevent the thinner bags from breaking, and tying the top in a knot. Other ideas for reducing odor and pests is to freeze food waste until the night before service day, and rinse and air out the kitchen pail or cart.

The new program is having a positive impact in the local agricultural community, Rulon said. Some of the organic material is being used in a Sacramento-area cattle ranch where the soil was depleted. The ranch now has nutrient-rich soil, and the grass is growing back, she said.

“Once your residents put material into the bin, they don’t really know what happens to it after that,” Rulon said. “They’re putting their faith and their trust into Republic Services and the City of Citrus Heights to do something responsible with that material.”

Councilwoman Jayna Karpinski-Costa thanked Rulon for her efforts to communicate the new regulations, and asked clarifying questions about improperly sorted carts. Rulon acknowledged there is confusion over various items that are not recyclable, and she said auditors are not targeting residents who mistakenly place items in the wrong carts.

Vice Mayor Bret Daniels, who along with other council members strongly opposed SB 1383 and its implementation in Citrus Heights in 2022, asked clarifying questions about the inspection guidelines and the amount of organic material residents are expected to sort. Rulon said Republic Services encourages residents to “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle,” and the company does not look for a minimum amount of organic waste.

“We firmly believe in reduce, reuse, recycle, rot, so composting your food should be the last resort — having no food waste is fantastic,” she said. “Having other options like chickens or goats or pigs that eat that stuff that’s great.”

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