Sierra Club group sends out mailers opposing Recology landfill agreement

Glossy mailers, such as this one from the Sierra Club, litter the streets and fill our recycling boxes every election season. (Connor Hunt/ Special to SF Examiner)

Just days before a Board of Supervisors vote on a controversial landfill agreement, the local chapter of the Sierra Club flooded the mailboxes of tens of thousands of residents last week with mailers sending a clear message: “San Francisco’s Garbage Plan Stinks!”

In what can be described as strange bedfellows, the San Francisco Bay Chapter of the Sierra Club is on the side of Waste Management, which owns a landfill in Altamont. The behemoth garbage company is doing what it can to hold on to its longstanding landfill agreement with San Francisco instead of it going to Recology, another garbage company titan.

“Sometimes issues have alignment that wouldn’t always be there,” said Michelle Myers, director of the San Francisco Chapter of the Sierra Club. She said their direct mail went to approximately 30,000 members and past members. “It seemed like direct mail would be the quickest way to get the message out to the most people,” Myers said.

Meanwhile Waste Management sent out 40,000 similar mailers, according to Waste Management’s spokesman Larry Kamer.

Myers said that the Sierra Club’s mailers are not being paid for by Waste Management. “The Sierra Club has really strict guidelines about how we accept corporate money and I would not take Waste Management money,” Myers said.

On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors will vote on whether to overturn a decision that the landfill agreement with Recology does not need to undergo an environmental review under state law. If approved, it would mark yet another setback for Recology in its bid for the landfill business, which extends back several years. A previous landfill agreement approved by the board in 2011 for Recology to haul waste by rail to Yuba County was scrapped amid three lawsuits alleging improper bidding and inadequate environmental review.

Under the $130 million landfill deal signed by the head of the Department of the Environment with Recology in July the waste would be trucked to a landfill it owns in Solano County, which is 155 roundtrip miles away, about 40 miles longer than to the Altamont Landfill. There would be up to 50 truck trips per day.

The Sierra Club’s mailer criticizes the deal for increased carbon emissions, among other issues such as loss of a fee in the contract with Waste Management that helps fund open space purchases. The fee was part of a lawsuit settlement filed by the nonprofit environmental group against Waste Management.

Eric Potashner, Recology spokesman, said that when it comes to increased emissions there is a “balancing” with the other benefits. He said the proposal by Waste Management would have cost “an extra $13 million a year, which would have taken away from our ability … to invest in more processing and do more recycling on the front end.”

The mailer also says having the company in charge of recycling and landfill would disincentivize recycling.

“The City … would not stand for us shirking our responsibilities to get to zero waste,” Potashner said.

For Recology, the landfill agreement is the final piece of San Francisco’s refuse stream the company does not control.

Waste Management has also filed a lawsuit alleging improper bidding of the landfill contract. The case is pending.

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