A Miramar Landfill employee stand over freshly-hauled organic waste on Feb. 22, 2022.
Employees stand over freshly-hauled organic waste at Miramar Landfill on Feb. 22, 2022. / Photo by Joe Orellana

City of San Diego residents can soon expect to pay more to throw stuff away.

The price to toss a ton of trash at the city-owned Miramar landfill, called “tipping” fees, could rise 71 percent by 2025 if the City Council approves the mayor’s proposed increase. Raising that price is necessary, city staff say, in part because San Diego has to start composting huge amounts of food waste at the landfill site.

Landfill owners charge tipping fees to help cover the cost of maintaining their landfills. If the Council rejects the fee increase, staff predicts the Miramar landfill will quickly slide into debt by about $10 million in 2024 to $119 million in fiscal year 2028. 

“Taking no action would result in either cuts to positions and funding associated with implementation of (food waste recycling) or potentially the general fund making up the cascading shortfall of $119 million in fiscal year 2028,” Renee Robertson, director of the Environmental Services Department, told the Council’s Environment Committee.

The Environment Committee OK’d increased fees on a ton of trash by $16 in July, adding another $14 per ton in July of 2024. The full City Council is expected vote on the increase in March.

It’s fairly cheap to dispose of trash at Miramar landfill compared to other dumps in California, around $42 per ton. The average cost from a 2015 state survey of landfills across the state was $54 per ton. Fees haven’t risen at Miramar since 2012, Robertson said. The “gate rate,” or the full cost to dispose of a ton of trash at Miramar landfill including recycling and franchise fees, is lower than privately-run landfills in the area like Otay operated by Republic Services. Otay costs around $101 a ton and Miramar around $63 a ton, city staff estimated.

A lobbyist for the trash hauling industry said the city’s below-market fees have been a competitive advantage.

“These rate changes are going to cost businesses and consumers an increased cost of service,” said Jim Madaffer, executive director of the San Diego County Disposal Association, a nonprofit that represents a number of private waste hauling companies in the region. “Now these rates are going to be a lot more on par (with others) which will make the landfill a lot less competitive.” 

One reason the city is proposing to increase the fee now is the start of a state law mandating food and organic waste be kept out of landfills. To comply, San Diego plans to build a $50 million organics recycling facility at Miramar landfill to receive and process all this newly separated material. It also purchased $51 million worth of collection trucks and hired 43 new drivers. 

A small plastic cup sits in a mound of organic waste at Miramar Landfill on Feb. 22, 2022. / File photo by Joe Orellana

If the Council doesn’t increase these fees, the cost of organics waste recycling and other mounting trash costs will carve into the city’s general fund – the largest pot of tax dollars in city coffers.

“What we’re trying to signal is that (organics recycling) has changed fundamentally how solid waste looks in the industry and there are costs associated with these goals,” Robertson said. “We’re proposing these fees … so there are no impacts of the even worst case scenario … to the general fund.”

Jessica Toth, who leads the Solana Center for Environmental Innovation, which focuses on food waste and composting education, said the city is “moving in the right direction” by raising these fees.

“But it’s not enough,” she said. “The cost of processing recyclables or food waste is beyond the cost to dispose of it.” She said the price should also reflect other costs to the environment including adding planet-warming gases like methane to the atmosphere or filling up the landfill. 

Landfills typically aren’t allowed to grow forever. Miramar, which opened in 1959 on land owned by the U.S. Navy, is scheduled to close in 2030 but the city’s already requested to extend its life. In 2022, San Diego buried 915,000 tons of trash in the Miramar landfill. Around 30 percent of that waste comes from the city-run trash collection servicing an estimated 285,000 customers. 

The cost increase would fall on both city and private waste haulers. However, since city-serviced residences don’t pay for trash pickup, it will likely be customers of private haulers – businesses and homes that can’t get their trash to the curb, which tend to be apartments – that feel the impact of this price increase as that cost gets passed onto trash bills.

A 1919 law called the People’s Ordinance permitted no-cost trash pick-up for hundreds of thousands of residents getting trash service from the city. That law was overturned during the 2022 midterm election, allowing the city to begin charging for trash collection if it chooses. But the city still charges itself to dump trash into its own landfill, a cost borne by the city’s general fund. 

Jordan More, from the city’s independent budget analyst’s office, pointed out that the tipping fee increase on waste dumped by the city would add an extra $5 million demand on the general fund the following fiscal year.

Charging those households for a service they’ve received at no cost is still years off, since the city must first do a cost of service study and then approve new waste fees by a vote of the City Council. 

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4 Comments

  1. Republic Services has already raised fees from $114 a month to $136 for compost materials. Add in the “fuel recovery fees” and 3 yard dumpster fees, and a $13 “non-compliance fee” (for not using their recycling services) and you now have a monthly trash bill that has gone from $190 to $350. I suspect that when the consultants are done, the City of San Diego fees for single family dwellings will be a shock to the family budget.

  2. Do you all remember when we stopped recycling in SD schools? Because “they” claimed it was too expensive. And it was cheaper to throw in landfill.

  3. It appears inevitable that measure B will be overturned based on the City’s estimate of $28 for trash pickup. Trash pickup in neighboring cities was already over $60 and this extra landfill charge had to be known by the City prior to the (fraudulent) ballot language and estimate.

  4. The people supporting this compost collection mandate carefully avoid the total collection cost per pound. Using my household’s compost-materials output (about a shoe box per week), I figure that the total cost will be about $1.50 to $2.00 per pound. Likely more.

    For decaying materials!!

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