Next week, trash fees are changing in Orange County’s unincorporated areas – and increasing in many cases – when a series of new county waste contracts take effect next Thursday.

How much are they going up?

It’s not easy to find out from the officials in charge.

When county supervisors approved the new contracts in May and early June, the public agenda documents didn’t say how the fees would change.

Over the last two weeks, Voice of OC has asked county officials for a rundown of how the rates are changing in these communities outside of cities, like North Tustin, Rossmoor, and Ladera Ranch.

County officials said such information doesn’t exist.

“We do not have a document that has current vs new rates since many of the new rates did not exist previously,” said Ruth Wardwell, spokeswoman for OC Waste & Recycling, the county department that oversees landfills as well as trash hauling contracts in unincorporated areas.

She noted the rates are increasing because of new services and requirements, including from a state law known as SB 1383 that requires shifting a large portion of food waste and paper waste away from landfills.

At Voice of OC’s request, officials did provide a list of new fees and pointed to a separate document that has current fees starting on page 9 – but warned that those lists can’t be compared apples-to-apples.

“This is not a simple rate comparison. The rate increases are based on new and different services.”

Ruth Wardwell, spokeswoman for OC Waste & Recycling

“We would be comparing apples to oranges to provide that without the proper perspective of SB 1383,” she added.

County officials say the trash companies are telling residents about the new fees at a series of meetings.

“The haulers are communicating the ‘how much’ and ‘why’ to their customers directly, along with SB 1383 compliance requirements,” Wardwell said.

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Yet a community leader in OC’s most populous unincorporated area said last week he and other residents hadn’t received info about how the rates are changing – three weeks after county supervisors approved the contracts for their areas.

“That’s a subject of interest to a lot of our members. I’ve gotten emails from a bunch of people wanting to know what’s happening,” said Richard Nelson, a longtime North Tustin leader with the Foothill Communities Association, in a June 14 interview.

Nelson said he first learned about the contracts being approved when the reporter contacted him.

Contacted again on Wednesday, Nelson said he still hasn’t seen any information about the price changes from the county or the trash hauling company.

“They really should [provide that pricing info],” Nelson said of the county.

“Because I get questions like why do we get different rates in different parts of our community.”

As for the county saying it would be apples to oranges to compare current and future prices, Nelson said “that seems like an odd answer to me.”

“You certainly ought to be able to compare what they were and what they’re going to be.”

Richard Nelson, a longtime North Tustin leader with the Foothill Communities Association

“There may be an explanation that part of the rationale is because of changes in law. I don’t see why you couldn’t compare – unless they’re changing the option menu.”

OC’s unincorporated areas are home to nearly 130,000 residents in communities that include North Tustin, Rossmoor, Ladera Ranch, El Modena, Coto de Caza, the canyons and numerous others.

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County supervisors, who approved the new trash hauling contracts, also didn’t have information about how the trash fees are changing when contacted for comment.

Supervisor Don Wagner, whose district includes North Tustin, noted that the fees residents pay depends on “the level of service the homeowner requests.”

Asked if the county should have a side-by-side comparison of how those fees are changing, Wagner said “No.”

“How would we even do that? Rates depend on individual customer choices,” Wagner said in a text message.

“Rates differ among providers, otherwise they have antitrust/price fixing problems. And all rates are going up because of new environmental law requirements from Sacramento. So a ‘chart’ with apples to apples comparisons is impossible to compile, I believe.”

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Several factors are affecting prices for trash collection, according to county staff.

“The Green Fence and National Sword initiatives have demanded increased quality standards for recyclable materials. Specifically, to reduce the amount of contamination in recycling,” Wardwell said.

“The SB 1383 shift to source separated collection intends to prevent contamination/lower quality recyclable materials in the recycling industry, and the increased quality standards of materials cannot be achieved through sorting through trash,” she added.

Wardwell also said the trash companies aren’t making returns on recycled materials like they used to.

“The value of recycling has dropped, and recyclers are not getting the same value from the materials in the past. Further there is a limited at best and non-existent at worst recycling market for plastics 3 through 7.”

Additionally, she said rates are increasing statewide due to “increased laws and regulation, increased labor cost and fuel costs, and dwindling recycling markets.”

Still, county Supervisor Katrina Foley said the county should know how much the rates are increasing.

“I would think so,” Foley said last week.

“You can be sure when I go into the office right now, I’m going to ask someone to look into this.”

Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. You can contact him at ngerda@voiceofoc.org.

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