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Practices and Policies

There are lots of emerging issues in the waste management field. In this section we highlight policies that the County of Santa Barbara supports as well as practices other jurisdictions can learn from.

"Green" Fanchises

Below are the various topics covered on this page. Feel free to click on a specific topic to quickly navigate to that section.

Crafting a Green Franchise
The Importance of Competition
The Process
Enhancing Commingled Recyclables Collection
Green Waste Recycling Enhancements
Automated Collection
Battery Recycling
Sharps
Bulky Item Collections
Multi-Family Recycling
Horse Manure/Bedding Diversion
Mandatory Commercial Recycling
Hauler Diversion Mandates
Dirty MRF Sorting
Clean Air Collection Trucks
Questions

Crafting a Green Franchise

One of the responsibilities of the County's Resource Recovery and Waste Management Division is overseeing the refuse, recycling, and green waste collection franchises for the unincorporated areas of the county. Overall the County's haulers serve nearly 30,000 single-family customers and 2,000 commercial and multi-family complexes. The county is divided into five different zones, and in 2009 we began a process to address the fact that contracts in three of the five zones were due to expire in 2011.

We took the impending expiration of these contracts as an opportunity to rethink virtually every aspect of our franchise agreements, from the way the zone boundaries were drawn to the range of services we desired. This page primarily addresses our goal of crafting as "green" a franchise as possible, with the caveat that we also needed to be as cost-effective as possible in the interest of county ratepayers. In other words, we were looking for programs that are environmentally beneficial and cost-effective at the same time.

Before we decided on the specifics of the new franchise services, there were some big picture choices that we made that revolved around fostering an atmosphere of healthy competition among local haulers both during the bid process and afterwards. Competition may not seem "green" at first glance, but in fact it helps ensure that our "green" programs would be successful by keeping the haulers on their toes and keen to meet, and hopefully exceed, the terms of their agreement, lest they lose business at some point to a competitor.

The Importance of Competition

With the goal of promoting competition in the short and long term, we made a number of major choices early on. We chose to alter the geographic boundaries of two of the zones so that they would be more economically balanced. Prior to the change, Zone 5 in the North County was much larger than Zone 4 and generated $7,500,000 million in annual revenue versus $1,800,000 in Zone 4. We felt that by making the zones closer in value we could create a situation where they were both economically viable and both able to attract bidders as needed, now and in the future. 

We made the decision to recommend a change in County code so that we could always have at least two haulers active in order to maintain an ongoing sense of competition and prevent a monopolistic situation where price and services depended on a single provider.

We also decided that the term of the new franchise would end at the same time as the franchises in zones that were not up for renewal. In our case that meant that all contracts would be set to expire in 2019. By having coterminous contracts we would gain the ability to explore issues, such as zone boundaries and service mandates, that were off limits for the zones whose contracts were not up for bid in 2011.

Lastly, in the name of competition we wanted to have a bid process for the available zones, rather than negotiate with the incumbent haulers. We chose to limit the bid to the three haulers that were already operating in the county, as they were known providers of quality service. We almost certainly could have received all of the services we wanted through negotiation, but we would never be certain that we had received the best deal possible for our ratepayers.

The results of the process show that this was indeed a good choice. The proposed rates in response to our Request for Proposals were up to 30% lower than the status quo in some areas, and consequently customers are now paying $2,000,000 less than they had been.

The Process

After we made the big decisions designed to encourage competition, we began crafting the terms of our new franchises. One of our major goals was to have the services provided by the haulers - and the way in which these services were rendered - be as green as possible, with the caveat that we wanted to be cost-effective as well.

As a starting point we downloaded and analyzed information about the procurement processes and franchises for other jurisdictions in California. Then we made lists of all the possible contract enhancements with potential appeal, and then narrowed the list down to the features that we wanted. There were programs in some jurisdictions designed to get usable textiles to thrift stores or host online reuse exchanges, that we did not adopt because we felt the needs were already well covered in our community. We wanted to focus on the essentials to help keep the bids as low as possible and also help the haulers better focus on the bigger needs we identified.

Most of the nuts and bolts work was carried out by a few staff members, who in turn worked with a committee representing the offices of the County's Attorney, CEO, and Auditor/Controller. In turn the committee answered to a subcommittee of the Board of Supervisors. All work products and meetings were posted on our website in the interest of complete transparency. Strictly speaking, this may not necessarily be a "green" thing, but if the process is flawed and challenged in court, for example, the enhancements that we were seeking could easily be long delayed.

Enhancing Commingled Recyclables Collection

Historically recyclables have been collected every other week in Santa Barbara County. One option was to make the collection weekly. The advantage of this would be to increase tonnage by an indeterminate amount and to remove the guesswork people sometimes have as to whether it is a recycling week or not. We had access to data from jurisdictions that had increased recycling collection frequency from biweekly to weekly, and found that the gains in tonnage were marginal, especially when considering that moving to weekly collection would increase the rates and add more traffic to the streets and pollutants to the air.

Instead we chose to make residential capacity unlimited. Single-family customers in the North County can request up to three total recycling carts to be included in their trash service at no extra charge. Customers in the South Coast can request up to three total recycling carts to be included in their trash service at no extra charge. Customers in the South Coast can request as many recycling carts as they need to be included in the trash service at no extra charge. Please note, however, that these extra carts are not intended for people running businesses from home.

Green Waste Recycling Enhancements

In the new contract for Zone 2 where we changed the collection services to automated (see below), green waste is included in all levels of service. The customer is entitled to 96 gallons of green waste collection every week whether they use it or not. This was a big change from the previous system in which green waste was priced the same as trash. Now there is strong incentive for people to use the green waste carts, as they don't cost extra and their use could even enable customers to lower the bills by reducing the size of their trash cart.

In the North County, green waste collection is every other week. The biggest change we made was to allow customers who need more capacity the ability to request and receive up to two additional 96-gallon green waste carts at no additional charge. Transitioning to weekly collection is another way to meet that need, but  it has the drawbacks of increased traffic, air emissions, and costs.

Automated Collection

Automated collection can be considered "green" to the extent that it increases routing efficiency and lessens the overall amount of time trucks need to be on the road. There are large portions of Santa Barbara County that are not suitable for automated collection, mostly due to difficult terrain. Prior to procurement, only the North County had an automated collection system.

We spoke with the haulers about which areas of the South Coast would be suitable for automated service and then hired a survey firm to poll customers about their receptivity to the change. The trade-off presented was that rates would go down and the haulers would provide all the containers, but the customers would need to bring all of their carts to the curb on collection day, something they were not required to do under the old system. The survey revealed that most people were in favor on automated collection if it would save them money, and so we proceeded with implementation when the new franchises commenced.

Battery Recycling

Battery recycling is easier now for anyone with a recycling cart. Once the cart is at the curb for collection, customers simply put any household batteries to be recycled in a clear plastic bag and put that on top of the recycling cart. Residents who live in a multi-family complex (apartment, condo, etc.) and do not have individual recycling carts, need to communicate with their management about this service. Usually there will be a central location where all residents of the complex can bring their batteries for the hauler to collect.

We couldn't just add batteries to the list of accepted recyclables, as the sorting lines at the recycling centers are simply not designed to deal with them. The solution we came up with does not slow the routes down very much, and the drivers are able to keep the batteries collected in a small bucket inside the truck cab.

Sharps

All customers who are residents of either single or multi-family homes are entitled to receive from their trash hauler, at no charge, mail-back containers for the proper disposal of used hypodermic needles (sharps). The containers will be delivered upon request, and the postage is pre-paid.

Bulky Item Collections

We increased the bulky item pickups from once to twice per year for single-family customers. Bulky items include couches, mattresses, appliances, computers, and other electronics. After the material is picked up, the haulers sort through it to recover anything that can be reused or recycled.

Bulky Item Materials

Also, for the first time, we included multi-family complexes in the bulky item program. Complexes are entitled to receive up to two bulky item pickups per year per complex. Each complex manager must make arrangements with the hauler to determine a central location and dates for the service.

Multi-Family Recycling

Recycling is included with trash service for all multi-family complexes. A big reason for this is to make sure that multi-family residents have the same access to recycling as single-family customers. Since the complex doesn't have to pay any extra for recycling, there is little incentive not to have it. We also included multi-family complexes in our new battery recycling program with the proviso that they need to establish a central location for the drop-off and collection of the batteries.

Horse Manure/Bedding Diversion

The northern part of Santa Barbara County is known to many as wine country, but it's also horse country. We asked the haulers to include a horse manure and bedding recycling program in their bids. Although there aren't many customers on the route, the material is very heavy. Every month between 20 and 30 tons are collection and composted.

Mandatory Commercial Recycling

The County has had a mandatory commercial recycling ordinance since 2003. The new franchises make the program even more attractive for business owners by promoting recycling rates that are less costly than trash rates. A 20% surcharge is assessed to businesses that do not recycle or qualify for an exemption.

Hauler Diversion Mandates

The franchises all require the haulers to divert a certain percentage of the waste they handle. The percentage ranges from 40 to 50%, depending on an assessment of each zone's potential. Achieving high rates of diversion is usually easier in the residential sector than the commercial, so in setting the mandates the County took the proportions of waste generation by both sectors into account. We also considered whether a zone had an unusual amount of green waste or horse manure and bedding.

Dirty "MRF" Sorting

The new franchises specify that the haulers will process a certain amount of commercial waste to recover recyclable materials. Commercial diversion is generally harder to achieve than residential, so this type of sorting (performed at a Materials Recovery Facility, or MRF) gives that sector a much needed boost in its recycling levels.

Clean Air Collection Trucks

By the end of 2013, all of the collection trucks in the county are required to run on natural gas, which will greatly reduce harmful air emissions that have long been associated with trash and recycling programs using traditional diesel-powered engines. One of the County's waste collection service providers has already installed a natural gas fueling station at their corporate yard, while the other is in the process of doing so.

Questions

If you have any questions about the County's procurement process or franchise terms, please call Thomas Chiarodit at (805) 882-3624.