image- ox mountain
The San Mateo county grand jury is warning that the Ox Mountain Landfill, off Highway 92, is filling fast and that it will take a dozen years to plan for a new landfill. Kyle Ludowitz / Review

The cities within San Mateo County face significant challenges in managing waste, according to a report issued last week by the county’s civil grand jury.

The biggest challenge outlined in the report headlined, “Planning for the County’s Waste Management Challenges,” is meeting the state’s new organic waste reduction target. The statewide goal is to reduce the amount of organic waste put in landfills by 75 percent by 2025, amounting to nearly 300,000 tons of organic waste.

According to the report, limited space in landfills is also a concern. The Ox Mountain Landfill, owned by Republic Services and located off of Highway 92 just east of Half Moon Bay, is expected to reach capacity in 2034. 

“While the solid waste facility permit for the landfill estimates a closure date of 2034, based on current fill rates and remaining capacity, we anticipate that Ox Mountain has approximately 20 years’ capacity left (2039),” said Monica Devincenzi, municipal relationship manager of Republic Services, in an emailed response to questions. She said the key to extending the landfill’s life lies in diverting and reducing waste.

“As more materials are diverted away from the landfill, it extends the closure date,” she said. “Our goal has been and will continue to be to operate and manage the facility with the greatest care possible to ensure it remains a resource and viable option in the county for as long as possible in partnership with the communities we serve.” Recyclables have also contributed to this problem. Every year, California exports about a third of the recyclable materials it collects. Most of this has historically been bought by processors in China who use recycled waste as material to manufacture new products.

However, in February 2018, the Chinese “National Sword” policy showed a reduced tolerance for contaminants on recyclable materials. That has resulted in a portion of the county’s collected recyclables being dumped in a landfill. Since the Chinese policy shift, the portion of South Bayside Waste Management Authority’s collected recyclables sent to Ox Mountain landfill rose from 7 to 12 percent. 

The most recent calculations from CalRecycle, California’s Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery, report that California generated 77.2 million tons of waste in 2017. Of that, 44.4 million tons ended up in landfills.

“We have always stressed the importance of reducing and reusing before recycling, and it’s now more critical than ever,” said Devincenzi. “We are starting to see more of these types of initiatives in communities throughout the Bay Area and the state, and we anticipate that more will be developed in the coming years.

“It requires everyone to do their part, from such simple steps as getting away from purchasing single-use items, to making sure that they are only putting those items that are accepted in their recycling programs.”

The grand jury recommended that the county’s Office of Sustainability prepare a new plan to deal with the problems addressed in the report.

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