Santa Clara County, California – Waste Disposal Surcharges

Santa Clara County’s commitment to achieving zero waste is exemplified by its Sustainability Master Plan, which aims to achieve a 75% reduction in disposed organic waste by 2025 (compared to 2014 levels), in addition to a 25% reduction from 2019 levels of daily per-capita waste generation by 2030. One way that the County supports its waste reduction efforts is through surcharges on waste disposal. 

A Solid Waste Planning Fee (SWPF) was adopted in 1984 at $0.15 per ton disposal at landfills, incinerators, and transfer stations, through resolution by the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors. The current fee rate, at $0.78-per-ton was adopted in 2009. This fee generated $1.3 million in fiscal year 2021 for the County’s Recycling and Waste Reduction Fund. Revenue from the SWPF is expended only on countywide solid waste, recycling, and waste diversion planning, programs, and activities.1 

For example, Santa Clara County has awarded $250,000 of revenue from the SWPF to support the launch of Joint Venture Silicon Valley’s countywide food recovery pilot program in 2021. Another countywide program is the composting education and demonstration program in partnership with the University of California Cooperative Extension. This program offers a Master Composter Training as well as community composting classes as technical resources.

 

Local Waste Surcharge Implemented to Meet State Recycling & Solid Waste Reduction Requirements 

Santa Clara County also charges an AB 939 implementation fee, in order to meet its requirements under the California Integrated Solid Waste Management Act of 1989, enacted by California Assembly Bill 939 (AB 939). This state bill enabled local governments to impose solid waste fees to be used to pay the costs of preparing, adopting, and implementing an integrated waste management plan. 

“CHAPTER 8. Local Fee Authority
41900. Each city and county shall demonstrate a funding source, or sources, available to pay for preparing, adopting, and implementing the element or plan, as required by Sections 41003, 41230, 41303, and 41430.
41901. A city, county, or city and county may impose fees in amounts sufficient to pay the costs of preparing, adopting, and implementing an integrated waste management plan prepared pursuant to this chapter. The fees shall be based on the types or amounts of the solid waste, and shall be used to pay the actual costs incurred by the city or county in preparing, adopting, and implementing the plan, as well as in setting and collecting the local fees. In determining the amounts of the fees, a city or county shall include only those costs directly related to the preparation, adoption, and implementation of the plan and the setting and collection of the local fees.
41902. A local agency may directly collect the fees authorized by this chapter or may, by agreement, arrange for the fees to be collected by a solid waste hauler providing solid waste collection for the city or county.”

 

This surcharge was first adopted in 1992, at $1 per ton, as a resolution by the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors. Since 2009, the surcharge totals $4.10 per ton. This total is made up of a $1.50 fee that funds costs of preparing, adopting, and implementing jurisdictional integrated waste management plans, as well as a $2.60 Household and Hazardous Waste Program Fee. Revenue from this fee is remitted quarterly to jurisdictions from which it was collected. For example, the City of San Jose uses its AB 939 fee revenue to fund recycling and household hazardous waste programs. Countywide revenue from this surcharge is expected to be $1.6 million for fiscal year 2021-2022. 

 

City of San José

San Jose is a leader in the use of economic incentives and disincentives to achieve waste reduction and diversion. These include an aggressive pay-as-you-throw residential rate structure for waste collection, waste disposal surcharges for collection service providers, per-ton disposal surcharges, hauling fees, and diversion incentive payments for recycling contractors.

The City of San Jose, one of 15 jurisdictions in Santa Clara County, achieved a reported 69% diversion rate in 2019, one of the highest in the country. San Jose uses $1.50 per ton from the countywide $4.10-per-ton AB 939 fee on landfill waste disposal to fund City recycling efforts. The earnings from the $1.50-per-ton fee, totaling $1.2 million in fiscal year 2019-2020, are deposited into the Integrated Waste Management Fund, which the City uses for maintenance of its recycling programs, including organics diversion, as well as staff funding.2  In addition to the countywide AB 939 fees, San Jose funds its commercial recycling programs through an annual commercial solid waste AB 939 fee ($2.7 million in fiscal year 2019-2020) paid by Republic Services, San Jose’s exclusively-contracted waste hauler. The commercial solid waste fee amount is set by the City Council. These revenues cover the costs for business recycling outreach and administration of the franchise agreement. Additional recycling programs are funded using grants from CalRecycle.3

San Jose also charges a separate Disposal Facility Tax, at $13 per ton, on landfills located within city limits that generates revenue for the City’s general fund. Revenue data from 2002-2013 shows a steady decline in annual revenue from the tax (from $16.3 million in 2002-2003 to $10.7 million in 2012-2013) as annual landfill disposal tonnage decreased. However, landfill disposal has increased with higher waste generation levels and population growth, creating a steady annual revenue of $12-13 million per year since 2013.

 

Conclusions

Stakeholders have expressed general concern over the tying of revenue to tons disposed, given that, achieving zero waste would yield zero revenue. As of 2021, neither the City nor the County have made recent updates to per-ton surcharges, with the last AB 939 fee increase occurring in 2010, from $3.55 to $4.10 per ton, and the last Solid Waste Planning fee update in 2009 to $0.78 per ton. However, the commercial solid waste AB 939 annual fee is adjusted every year, with approval from the City Council, in accordance with changes in the Consumer Price Index.

As an added challenge, the passage of California Proposition 26 in 2010 limits the ability of local governments to create new fees, and requires two-thirds voter approval for increases to taxes and fees, which can be a lengthy process. AB 939 enabled a unique opportunity for local governments to establish fees on waste disposal. Government officials from both Santa Clara County and the City of San Jose have recommended that similar surcharge laws include a system to regularly review and update the fees.

 

Personal Communication. Clif Chew. Management Analyst, County of Santa Clara. Phone call. September 8, 2021.
2 Personal communication. Alana Lowrie. Supervising Environmental Services Specialist, City of San Jose. Video call. September 3, 2021.
3 Personal Communication. Cecilia Rios. Supervising Environmental Services Specialist, City of San Jose. Video call. September 3, 2021. 
4 Personal Communication. Cecilia Rios. Supervising Environmental Services Specialist, City of San Jose. Video call. September 3, 2021.

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Original post from December 13, 2021

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Sophia Jones

Sophia Jones is a Policy Fellow with ILSR’s Composting for Community initiative, where she researches, analyzes and supports the building of US policy that advances local composting. Her background in sustainable development and agriculture reflects her interest in solutions-based, community-led development initiatives.