Orange County, California reevaluates its trash-import model
- An Orange County, California grand jury stated that the county "should update its cost-benefit analysis on imported trash revenue and the future costs associated with earlier closures in the landfill system," according to a document outlining the future of the county's aging network of landfills.
- County Supervisor Todd Spitzer said, "The horse has left the barn. We need the revenue stream," referring to the Board of Supervisors decision to continue its profitable trash-import scheme to fund construction and renovation of the county civic center, as reported by The Orange County Register.
- The county must renegotiate deals with various municipalities to extend the life of landfills within its borders, including for Prima Deshecha Landfill in the city of San Juan Capistrano, which expires next year and is currently under discussion. The jury highlighted the need to begin negotiations with the city of Brea for the Olinda Alpha Landfill, an agreement that expires in 2021. Olinda Alpha's current memorandum of understanding with Brea expires in 2021 and could be closed if not renewed, the report said.
In 1994, Orange County went bankrupt and began allowing neighboring counties to send waste to its landfills for a fee as a strategy to pay down its debt. Last year, the county paid off its last remaining bankruptcy bonds, but doesn't seem ready to ween itself off of lucrative trash-import revenue.
Many of the financial assumptions that went into the decision to continue importing from other counties came before China's import restrictions. County officials may well have to reconsider their plans if more recyclable materials head to landfills, shortening capacity projections. The grand jury document acknowledges this reality, stating that "[rejected bales of recyclable material] could lead to higher trash rates and increased fill rates."
Although the county plans to renegotiate landfill agreements with several cities within its borders, it must face the implications of Chinese policy eventually if current market trends continue. One strategy may be to reduce the portion of trash brought in from nearby counties, which now stands at 37% of the county's 5 million tons per year going to landfills. Given the county's reliance on tipping fees for rounding out the budget, that seems unlikely in the short term.
Of the three landfills, Olinda Alpha is expected to close the soonest in 2031, with Frank R. Bowerman and Prima Deshecha landfills projected to shutter in 2053 and 2067, respectively. The county’s largest trash-import client is Los Angeles County, which will continue sending its trash through at least 2025.
- Orange County Orange County Landfills: Talking Trash
- The Orange County Register Grand jury tells Orange County to reconsider taking other counties’ trash
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