Long Beach residents could see their trash bills increase twice between July and October as the city prepares to comply with a state-mandated organic recycling law, but the largest increase is expected next year, when residential pickups of organic waste are expected to begin.

The City Council is holding a special hearing Tuesday to authorize the two rate increases, the first of which is expected to go into effect July 1 and raise the typical single-family home’s bill by $3.90 per month. The second increase is scheduled for October and would raise rates by another $4.34 per month for a single-family home.

If approved, the average single-family home in Long Beach is expected to pay $42.66 for its trash bill starting in October. Rates for businesses and large apartment buildings would fluctuate based on the size of their bins.

The hearing comes after council members have already approved one rate hike to cover part of the projected costs of the organic recycling mandate. Last year, after the city’s Public Works Department sought a $6.45 increase to pay for the new bins, trucks and employees it needs to comply with Senate Bill 1383, the City Council voted instead to approve a $5.43 increase with a phase-in period for the rest.

While officials know rate hikes won’t be popular, the organic recycling mandate comes from the state—and the city needs a way to pay for the costs of complying, which will include providing a new third waste bin to residents and businesses for things like food scraps, yard clippings and paper products.

“It’s not optional for us to say that ‘Organic recycling is too expensive so we’re not going to do it’—that’s not an option,” said Diko Melkonian, the city’s deputy director of Public Works.

Melkonian oversees the bureau in charge of refuse collection and said that the combined $8.24 in increases are larger than what was proposed last year in part because costs have continued to grow as the city analyzed how to break up the second increase.

The city has to purchase tens of thousands of residential and commercial collection bins for the organic recycling program and buy new trucks to pick them up. While the department is currently struggling to hire enough people to ensure that existing trash routes are picked up on time, eventually it will have to hire even more drivers to pick up the new organic recycling routes.

The state law also requires the city to enforce the separation of organic waste from regular trash, and Melkonian said “lid lifters” are part of the additional staff that the city will eventually have to hire. Their job will be to cite people not complying with the law, something the city could be fined for if it doesn’t ensure compliance.

Public Works employee David Estell, left and Hector Quintana move and empty trash cans along an alley during a daily trash day in Long Beach Tuesday, March 9, 2021.Photo by Thomas R. Cordova.

Melkonian said commercial pickup is expected to begin this year, although it’s been delayed because trucks that the city thought would be delivered in December are still not ready. Residential pickup is expected to begin in 2024.

Inflation has been a major in factor in the rise in costs, Melkonian said.

“In 2018, we purchased rear-loader trash trucks and they cost about $301,000,” he said. “We just got approved for replacements, and now it’s $421,000. You’re talking about a 40% increase in that time frame.”

A cost of service study commissioned by the city estimates that over $7.8 million in new costs are estimated to be added by Senate Bill 1383, which was adopted in 2016 and now requires municipalities to divert organic waste from landfills as the state hopes to cut methane emissions originating from landfills.

The waste is supposed to be diverted to processing centers to be turned into things like condensed natural gas for vehicles. However, processing plants for organic materials are in short supply in the region and the state didn’t provide any funding to develop them.

Melkonian said that current disposal rates for trash are about $75-$80 per ton, but for organics, it can range from $98 to $117 per ton, according to the city’s pilot program that started diverting select small business organics from landfills.

The plan was to expand service to all businesses this year, but the trucks the city needs still haven’t been delivered. While rates will go up for businesses after July, they won’t be charged until organic recycling pickups begin, Melkonian said.

A third rate increase that will become effective once residential organic recycling begins has not been determined. Melkonian said the city is using a consultant to figure out what that number will be but it’s expected to be “significant.”

“Cities all around us are doing increases right now,” he said. “Torrance just did one, Burbank did one, Glendale, cities everywhere. This is going to be commonplace.”

But there is an effort to pause the implementation.

The Little Hoover Commission, an independent state oversight agency, recommended that SB 1383 be delayed until a host of issues are resolved.

Some of the recommendations made in the report call for smaller, rural counties to be permanently exempted while the state helps fix larger “super-emitter” facilities in more populous counties that produce the majority of emissions.

It called for the state to help pay for the education campaign to get residents on board with the program and said SB 1383’s use of organics to make natural gas for vehicles was inconsistent with other state laws prioritizing zero-emission energy. It also called for a cost-benefit analysis that outlines the costs of the programs and who will pay for them.

State lawmakers would ultimately have the final say on whether the implementation is paused.

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Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or @JasonRuiz_LB on Twitter.