Two years ago, rubbish was hardly a conversation piece in Ventura County. It was something you lugged to the curb and dismissed from your mind.
Collection rates were relatively cheap. They varied little from city to city and they didn't go up, no matter how many barrels or bags were put out.
All of that, trash experts predict, is about to change.
A new state law will, in the decade ahead, require deep reductions in cities' landfill usage. This, in turn, will prompt massive recycling, and--the experts warn--increase rubbish collection rates.
"It's a state-mandated program . . . but the state is providing none of the money needed," Kay Martin, director of the Ventura County Solid Waste Management Department, said of the law.
Complying with the new requirements, she predicted, will be a "very expensive proposition, and it will probably be funded by higher rates."
Trash rates have gone up in some cities and are expected to increase in others in the next few months, authorities said.
Already the gap between rates in Ventura, the county's highest-priced city, and others that have held the line has grown to where Ventura now charges twice as much as some of its neighbors to haul equivalent amounts of garbage.
A new policy called volume pricing is being advocated by environmentalists to reward those who produce less trash and punish those who produce more.
In Ventura--the only city in the county to adopt volume pricing, though others are studying the concept--many residents have complained because their bills have climbed sharply since new rates went into effect Sept. 1.
The approach is not intended to be punitive, city officials insist. Rather, it is designed to comply with a new state law requiring cities to drastically reduce their use of landfills, where rates have doubled in the past two years.
Two factors--escalating landfill charges and the cost of recycling--are most often cited as the reasons trash charges are increasing.
It costs $39.50 a ton to dump trash in the county-owned Bailard Landfill, more than twice as much as the $18.70 it cost in 1988.
Charges also have more than doubled to $30.10 a ton since 1988 at the privately owned Simi Valley Landfill, one of the other two in the county. Costs have risen 65% to $33 at the Toland Road facility between Santa Paula and Fillmore. Landfill managers say the increases are mainly because of costly anti-pollution steps they now must take.
Nobody is sure how costly recycling is going to be, though Ventura says $2.89 of its residents' escalating bills pays for separating recyclable from nonrecyclable rubbish.
Most other cities have not yet levied recycling charges, but officials generally agree that unless newspapers, food and beverage containers and other recyclables are separated from other rubbish, it will be impossible to comply with the new state law, AB 939.
The law requires cities to cut landfill use 25% by 1995 and 50% by 2000. It calls for a fine of $10,000 a day to be levied against cities that fail to meet these reductions.
One company, E.J. Harrison & Sons Inc., dominates residential trash collection in Ventura County. Operating under various names, the firm is the exclusive hauler in four cities--Ventura, Ojai, Camarillo and Fillmore. Harrison shares trash collection with two other companies in Thousand Oaks.
Another company, G.I. Industries, is one of two residential haulers serving Simi Valley and Moorpark, and is one of three operating in Thousand Oaks.
In Ventura, Camarillo, Ojai and Fillmore--all of which are served by Harrison--charges are higher than in Oxnard, Port Hueneme and Santa Paula, where trash is collected by municipal agencies.
In Ventura, where prices are the highest, households that before Sept. 1 paid $16.35 a month for weekly collection of as much as 119 gallons must now pay $25.14--an increase of 53%--for up to 110 gallons. A bin for recyclable material is included in the service.
Ventura residents who use as many as three Harrison-provided 55-gallon barrels now must pay $31.79 a month.
By contrast, Port Hueneme provides unlimited service for $12 a month.
"The more the residents have to pay, the bigger the incentive to reduce waste," said Eric Werbalosky, Ventura's recycling director, explaining his city's new rate schedule. "That, in a nutshell, is our philosophy."
Jim Harrison, president of E.J. Harrison & Sons, says his firm could legally charge volume-based rates in Camarillo and Fillmore. It does not, he said, because officials in those cities have not ordered it to do so except when residents use additional company-provided barrels.
"In all the cities except Ventura, we only give people an extra barrel if they ask for it," Harrison said. In Camarillo, Fillmore, Ojai and Thousand Oaks, he said, residents who put out their own barrels or trash bags in addition to a company-provided barrel are not hit with an additional charge.
"That's the way we've always done things, and we're not going to change until the cities tell us to," Harrison said.