Friday, January 29, 2010

The Price of Low Cost

A recent blurb in the Business Weekly Section of the Journal mentioned the potential for a “trash collection fee” increase. Mayor Berry says: “The Solid Waste Mgt. Dept. isn’t collecting enough in fees to cover the cost of operations.” Alb. Journal, 12/26/09

Soilutions is glad the new administration is addressing the issue. We are direct competitors for green waste diversion with City and County solid waste departments. We have been fretting over the low tipping fees at the transfer stations (the most accessible option for residents) since before our incorporation. As a privately owned and operated business, we know what it cost to operate a solid waste facility and just can’t reconcile their fees with what we are pretty sure to be their costs. The low tipping fees directly retard the growth of the recycling industry in New Mexico.

According to the 2009 NM Solid Waste Annual Report, NM currently has a recycling rate of 12.4%, well below the 33% national average. According to, the south central region of the United States (of which NM is a part) also ranks in the lowest in national tipping fee averages at just $23.28/ton (compare to the mid-Atlantic area at $69.07/ton). Because of the perceived abundance of wide open space, it is just cheaper to throw stuff in a hole here. Curbside pickup of residential trash is deemed a right of citizenship and maybe it is. It certainly helps to keep properties clean and safe. It also makes it easy to throw increasingly valuable recyclables away.

There are many ways to avoid raising residential trash service fees: pay as you throw programs, decreased frequency, and increased recycling pick-up to name a few. While an increase of the cost of residential trash service may be difficult to push through in these economic times, an alternative to recouping some of the solid waste department’s costs would be to increase the fees at transfer stations. Transfer stations typically are used by those with more trash than can be carried in a residential cart. Increasing fees at the transfer stations would only impact heavy generators. People not willing to pay the increase would be forced to seek other options. One option is to divert waste (over 70% of what goes into NM landfills is recyclable; at LEAST 35% is organic material). Diverting waste simply means sorting it such that items will go where they can be appropriately managed. This is by far the most environmentally (and thus patriotic) viable option.

Increased fees at the transfer stations will not increase illegal dumping as is generally argued. We already have unbearably low fees in our state and still see illegal dumping everywhere. Illegal dumping is one of those things that just occur. People who dump illegally do so because of ignorance, laziness, or I don’t know what. For example, Soilutions doesn’t charge to receive clean horse manure. Nonetheless, I see trailer loads of it dumped on the side of roads all the time. But by the same token, those that responsibly dispose of waste will do so at any cost. When Soilutions raises our recycling tip fees, we hear some grumbling but when informed why the rates increased, those people accept it. As with most things, education and communication are essential to proper decision making.

Illegal dumping is unsightly, dangerous, and expensive. Solid waste departments could allocate part of the increased revenue to illegal dumping clean-up. Transfer stations that purportedly separate green waste from municipal solid waste (MSW) do not, in fact. A landfill operator once told me that they take green waste for free but don’t have the money to manage it so it sits around and gets contaminated. Increased fees would allow for the extra time and money needed to properly reclaim and manage green waste received at these facilities. Increased tip fees would allow landfills and solid waste departments to generate enough money to establish mandated funds for proper closure, to remediate non-compliance violations, construct landfill cells properly, monitor the facility throughout its lifetime, and for further corrective activities.

Increases in tipping fees nation-wide have proven time and again to be beneficial to recycling programs. According to, high tip fees along with a properly managed recycling program actually reduce illegal dumping. And so, I would suggest to Mayor Berry that a raise in fees for curbside pick-up may not be the answer at this time. Rather, a fee increase at the transfer stations and landfills, where clients are high volume users, would not only generate the income needed to finance curbside pick-up, but also strengthen the recycling environment in New Mexico.

Now if we could just get them to sell their finished material at a profit, we’d be making strides forward.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Spring, take 2

As I sit here this morning, I have to giggle a bit. This week has been the complete opposite to last weekend. Rainy, cold, and now, snowy. It's great and I love it. (By the by, the compost site got 7.55" rain last year: almost normal). But isn't it just like mother nature to throw us a curve?

In preparation for spring soon coming, though, despite this weeks' indicators to the contrary, we are sprucing the place up a bit. We are refreshing our mulch on our driveways and replenishing our samples.

I gave a tour to two young ladies from Costa Rica yesterday. They were troopers. I can't imagine they see much snow down there. Anyway, they work at the Intel Plant down there. No one in Costa Rica is recycling organics and they heard that we do a good job with the organics from the Rio Rancho Plant. So they came down to take a look at how we do what we do. I am always amazed that Soilutions has a reputation outside my own head. (Jim got a call from some mid-schoolers in Virginia or some such place because everywhere they turned his name kept popping up). Maybe there is a consultant gig for me in Costa Rica in the future.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


No. Spring has not yet arrived in NM. But it sure does feel like it's around the corner. I spent the weekend tilling the old plot; I even added a new 100 square foot area. I got a kick out of turning over all the carrots and beets that I must have missed last fall. Not bad tasting, a little sandy but that never hurt anyone. Nature helps those that help themselves: it rained last night to soak all the yummy compost and vermicompost into the soil. I even had my first harvest dream of the year.

I picked a meager salad from a small cold frame.

At the compost site, we are getting one or two more people calling each week; one or two more people coming down and getting something to start off with. There was a couple of weeks during the Christmas/New Year's Day period where we didn't see a handful of people all week. This week, we are going to double our yearly totals for deliveries!

Enjoy the moisture while we can.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Products Price Changes

Thank you to all who have supported us in 2009. The preliminary numbers show that we will be able to continue to serve you with are fine garden products and seemingly expert knowledge for another year.

Unfortunately, we find it necessary to raise our selling prices on products this year. Most notably, for the first time in our 13+ years, we are raising the price on our Premium Compost from $32/yd to $36/yd. Costs to manufacture have just gotten to too high. Please check our other price changes on this website or give me a call.

When we first started, we were selling Premium at $14/yd when, after a brief calculation, it was costing us $20/yd to make! Since then we have concentrated on lowering our costs so that the price would remain constant for our customers. But, as I said, the cost of diesel, property taxes, compliance costs, insurance, and the ever important labor costs have increases too dramatically over the recent past.

Please note that tipping fees will remain at the ridiculously low rate of $5/yd. Usually, the recycling aspect of our company shares the costs with the manufacturing side, but we didn't feel it was fair to you in this continuing tight economic climate to raise those fees.

We look forward to seeing you all soon, and thanks for your support.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Polar Bear Swim Update

Finally, here is the update and photos for which I know you've all been waiting.

The weather was beautiful; sunny, warm and not much breeze.

Turn out was down,

although not by much thanks to two late comers.

The pool temperature was high: 38F when we opened it, 40F by the time we got in.

There was some confusion on when we were to swim, which left plenty of time to break the ice

and to sit and watch it thaw

but we had most people fired up by about noon.

A newcomer to the event proved that in fact we are not crazy. He jumped in and dawdled for a good minute or so.

One swimmer had a run-in with a chunk of ice,

and my youngest son did a full lap lengthwise (probably equaling the newcomer for total time spent in the water).

Not to be outdone, I was able to do a two full laps, complete with flip turn (again, no photos). The guest of honor, cold water aficionado and 3 time Channel swimmer Suzie, leisurely completed two laps.

Thanks to all who returned for the second or third year. Special thanks to Jim and Karen for letting me tell you all about it on company time.

Spectators as well as participants had a feast of chowder, hoppin'john, and whiskey sours (before and) afterward.

See you next year!

PS. We extended the festivities this year by going to Elephant Butte on January 2. The water was 46F but seemed MUCH colder. Suzie is caught swimming, this time for 5 minutes or more, as part of her 50 swims in 50 states mission.