Frequently Asked Questions
Transportation and Public Works is now Sonoma Public Infrastructure - Website updates coming soon!
How did the system work before Republic took over operations?
Throughout Sonoma County there are facilities, collection strategies and programs in place to prevent most waste from ever going to a landfill. Everyone is familiar with the blue and green can, yet there are numerous other efforts underway to reduce the amount of material buried. Blue can curbside recycling, green can composting, sorting of construction and demolition recyclables, and commercial recycling of cardboard and paper by baling on-site, along with other efforts help minimize the amount of material buried in landfills. As of early 2015, only about 26% of all Sonoma County waste was non-recyclable and disposed of in the landfill.
After decades of operating a landfill on Meacham Road near Cotati, the county had to close that facility in 2005 due to State agency concerns about possible pollution. During a five-year period about 240,000 tons each year were trucked from Sonoma County to landfills in other counties for disposal. Hauling our waste hundreds of miles for disposal did not make sense for the environment, so the County and cities agreed to re-open our own landfill.
New permits have been obtained to re-open the landfill for 25 to 30 years. The MOA provides the mechanism to finance the construction of the new areas of the landfill, cover liabilities associated with eventually closing the landfill and also to intensify efforts to reduce the amount of waste sent to the landfill by maximizing recycling and diversion programs.
How much garbage and waste do we generate and how much is recycled?
Sonoma County is home to about 500,000 people and on any given day thousands of visitors may also be present. In our collective daily routines we each contribute to the "waste stream" or the total amount of discarded materials generated by all daily activity throughout the entire county. In 2011 this was estimated to be 1,262,000 tons. Of this total amount only 322,000 tons were disposed of in a landfill while the rest was diverted, being recycled, composted or otherwise reused. Over the past 25 years our community has been a leader in reducing the amount of waste disposed in landfills and established effective programs to capture and recycle most of the material previously thought of as waste. In 2011 approximately 74% of the waste stream was diverted from landfilling and recycled. One of the goals of this agreement is to help push this to 80% and beyond.
What type of waste still gets buried in landfills?
Periodically, the waste material delivered to the landfill in garbage trucks is actually unloaded and inventoried by type of material. These "waste characterization" studies are designed to identify the actual composition of waste still being disposed by landfill. A 2014 waste characterization study showed that the three largest components of Sonoma County waste still being sent to landfill were organics (mostly food scraps) at 31%, paper at 20%, and construction & demolition (C&D) waste at 19%. The MOA includes new programs targeting additional recovery from these waste categories to help increase diversion to 80% and beyond.
How much recycling is being done?
We are all familiar with the blue and green cans available to residents but there are many other programs now in place to reduce waste and to reduce impacts on the environment. As an example, there are programs which compost Christmas trees, sort through construction debris retrieving recyclables, household hazardous waste disposal to protect water quality and public health, source separation of office paper and cardboard shipping boxes from retailers, concrete and asphalt recycling from highway construction, glass and aluminum containers recycling, etc. In 2011, approximately 940,000 tons of these various materials were estimated to be removed from the waste stream here in Sonoma County and sent back into the economy to be remade into new products or for other beneficial reuse.
Does the MOA support the SWAG and County goal of reaching 80% waste diversion? Yes . Through the collaborative efforts of Republic Services and their primary subcontractor, The Ratto Group (TRG), the MOA offers an innovative and integrated approach to provide new diversion programs in Sonoma County. These new programs include:
- County wide food waste collection offered at no cost to all Ratto Group commercial customers
- Construction of a mixed waste Material Recovery Facility (MRF) at the Central site to process Self Haul material, Construction and Demolition waste (C&D), and Dry Commercial waste
- Selective Dry Commercial Routing to maximize diversion through MRF processing
These new programs alone will provide a solid foundation to bring Sonoma County's diversion level to approximately 79%. With the implementation of additional SWAG-identified programs outside this MOA - such as the AB-341 Mandatory Commercial Recycling Outreach, the Construction and Demolition (C&D) Recycling Ordinance, the initiation of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) obligations, and other diversion programs - Sonoma County should easily exceed its 80% diversion goal.
Does the MOA include any recycling or waste diversion guarantees?
Yes . The MOA requires that Republic Services divert a minimum of 67,000 tons per year of material from disposal. Diversion tons include the continuation of 12,000 tons per year of existing recovery through programs currently in place as part of the County System, plus an additional 55,000 tons per year of "new" diversion through the implementation of SWAG approved programs. The MOA includes monthly, quarterly, and annual reporting requirements to validate performance of these diversion levels. The MOA also includes provision for substantial financial penalties should Republic's efforts fall short. The MOA refers to the financial penalties as liquidated damages (LDs).
How will the diversion commitments in the MOA be tracked, validated and reported to the State as required by AB 939?
The Sonoma County Waste Management Agency (SCWMA) will continue to be responsible for monitoring and reporting of Sonoma County's disposal and diversion information to the State, (CalRecycle), as required by AB 939. The MOA includes full time County staff to provide ongoing oversight of the diversion and disposal activities and contract performance standards of the MOA. The MOA also requires that all material entering and leaving the system is weighed on certified scales and that this information be compiled into monthly, quarterly and annual reports. Standard audit provisions within the MOA further support the County's ability to validate that Republic Services is meeting the diversion commitments required by the agreement. As is the current practice, all the information needed by the SCWMA to fulfill their monitoring and reporting requirements under AB 939 will continue to be provided. This information will also continue to be fully available to the AB 939 Local Task Force to facilitate their advisory role to both the SCWMA and the Board of Supervisors.
Does the MOA help the County's Climate Protection Goals?
Yes. Key provisions of the MOA will offer substantial reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. First, the permanent development of an In-County landfill will reduce the transportation emissions associated with the long hauling of our waste to distant out of county landfills. Additionally, the MOA requires significant new recycling and the diversion of food waste material from disposal. It is well known that increasing recycling and removing methane generating food waste from landfills can contribute greatly to reducing the carbon footprint of County. Further, the MOA requires Republic Services to hire a third party independent consultant to perform an initial baseline Green House Gas (GHG) emissions study as well as subsequent GHG reduction assessments on three year intervals during the term of the Agreement.
Does the MOA accommodate the opportunity to introduce new programs or technology during the term of the Agreement?
Yes. The MOA includes a provision whereby the County or any participating City may introduce a new program or technology for consideration at any time during the term of the agreement. The MOA calls for a process for the parties to meet and confer related to operational and financial considerations required for implementation of a specific project request. The MOA also includes a provision for compensation adjustments should a new program request or technology update require rate adjustments to the agreement.
How will the MOA impact ratepayers in Sonoma County?
Minimally. While the final rates have not been set, it is currently projected that the System Tip Fee will need to increase to accommodate the new services and other program benefits. This is expected to result in a 2%-3% increase on an average household's monthly collection service bill or about 30-60 cents per month.
How are rates controlled under the MOA?
The MOA includes an annual rate adjustment provision based on the Consumer Price Index (CPI). The contractor's service fee will be adjusted once per year to reflect 90% of the change in the CPI. This adjustment will be capped to allow for no more than a 3.5% increase per year regardless of the CPI change. This is designed to provide Cities and the County with stable and predictable rates over the contract term. The only other rate changes allowed under the MOA would be for Changes in Law or Force Majeure events that; 1) are beyond Republic Services control and; 2) can be demonstrated to have actual cost impacts to Republic Services. This is further conditioned that the cost impact must be greater than $50,000 before any adjustments to the rates will be considered.
Waste Flow & Liability FAQ
Who is participating in the operations change to Republic?
All cities in Sonoma County are participating, with the exception of the City of Petaluma, who takes all their materials to the Redwood Landfill and Compost Facility in Marin County. All residents in the unincorporated area of Sonoma County will also participate in the change of operations.
Do Cities have to commit their waste stream indefinitely to receive liability relief in perpetuity?
No. The participating cities have entered into a 25 year waste flow agreement with Republic Services, with the opportunity for extension at the City's request. In exchange for this initial commitment, Republic Services is offering release from landfill liability through the duration of operation, closure, post closure and beyond.
Does the MOA require a Put-or-Pay disposal commitment from the Cities in Sonoma County?
No. The MOA has no set disposal volume requirements (put-or-pay) that any City needs to meet. This feature supports increased diversion flexibility by allowing each City to expand existing, or create new, recycling programs as they see fit for their own local community without any financial disincentive for reducing their waste stream.
How does the MOA address issues related to the county's existing closed landfills?
The MOA requires Republic to pay the County a County Concession Payment in exchange for the County's granting of an exclusive operations agreement to Republic to operate the facilities. The County intends to use revenues generated by the County Concession Payment to cover the cost of post closure maintenance for the County's closed landfill sites. The County will continue to maintain responsibility for the closed sites in the system through the revenue provided by this funding source. The amount of the Concession payment is not yet determined.
Is the County ultimately still responsible as the owner of the property? how can the risk be successfully shifted to Republic Services?
The MOA includes appropriate financial mechanisms to secure the contractual obligations of Republic Services. To provide overall surety, Republic Services, the parent company with over $8 billion in annual revenues, will execute a corporate guarantee agreeing to meet the obligations of the Agreement in the event there is a breach of the contract. The MOA requires Republic Services to be fully responsible for all closure/post-closure maintenance for Central landfill in perpetuity. The MOA further requires that Republic Services have a large financial institutional bank issue a Letter of Credit (LOC) or a surety bond to secure its financial obligations for closure (estimated at $28 million) and for post-closure maintenance (estimated at $24 million) expenses. In addition to other customary insurance requirements, Republic Services will also carry pollution liability insurance for its operations in the amount of $10 million per occurrence and $25 million in the aggregate.
Operational & Contractual FAQ
How will the MOA be enforced?
The MOA contains monthly, quarterly and annual reporting requirements by Republic Services and provisions for auditing rights by the County. Revenue will be provided through Concession payments to fund dedicated full-time County staff to monitor and oversee contract compliance and verify Republic Services' performance throughout the term of the Agreement. In addition, the operation of the facilities are subject to a comprehensive set of environmental regulations monitored and inspected by numerous public regulatory agencies such as the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board (NCRWQCB), CalRecycle's Local Enforcement Agency (LEA) - County of Sonoma Department of Health Services, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD), and others.
What is Republic Services' track record with environmental compliance?
Republic Services is the second largest environmental services company in the nation with more than 34,000 employees. The company owns and successfully operates 400 hauling companies, over 200 landfills, 242 solid waste transfer stations and over 75 recycling processing facilities across the country. Republic Services employs a team of engineering and environmental management professionals to ensure that landfill design and operations meet or exceed all local, state and federal regulatory requirements. With the size and level of complexity of operations at Republic Services nationwide, some environmental issues do arise that require attention beyond the normal daily operations. For these isolated incidents, Republic Services has a demonstrated track record of working closely with the responsible regulatory agencies to immediately implement any needed corrective action and diligently pursue all required steps to ensure long-term protection of the environment.
With $8 billion in annual revenue, Republic Services has the financial strength to stand behind its environmental compliance commitments and, as stated previously, the MOA includes substantial financial mechanisms to secure the contractual obligations of Republic Services. The environmental, operational and financial qualifications of Republic Services have been thoroughly reviewed and vetted through the public competitive process here in Sonoma County to validate their track record and their capabilities to meet all their obligations under the requirements of the MOA.
Did the County sell the Transfer and Disposal System to Republic Services?
No. Sonoma County retains ownership and continual oversight of all the infrastructure and underlying property of the current integrated Transfer and Disposal System. Sonoma County will enter into a long-term contract with Republic Services to operate and maintain the County-Owned System.