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Schrodinger's Dump: A Jury Verdict Reveals That Garbage Can Be Simultaneously in and Not in a Landfill 

Wednesday, Jul 9 2014

Waste-collection is a dirty racket. As Rodney Dangerfield's character puts it in Back to School, "I don't know if you're familiar with who runs that business. But I can assure you it's not the Boy Scouts!"

Per a whistleblower suit brought against San Francisco waste collector Recology, the answer to Dangerfield's rhetorical statement would be "accountants — deviously clever accountants."

A jury last month said that Recology falsely claimed it diverted enough refuse from area landfills to earn a bonus in 2008 (the result of an agreement with the city in which Recology customers are on the hook for the bonus). As such, customers are due back that $1.3 million. And, sifting through the heaps of documentation supporting this case, one discovers some amazing examples of waste management.

Plaintiff Brian McVeigh claims Recology has devised startlingly abstract practices regarding concrete. The company received a credit for excess concrete dumped on its grounds being diverted from landfill. But, in an inspired bit of bookkeeping, "Recology then cut up that same concrete and sent it to a concrete processor ... taking diversion [credits] a second time on the same tons of concrete," claims the suit. "Recology's fraud gives Recology 200 percent diversion credit on each ton of concrete."

The jury, however, drew its fine line on "fines." This is industry jargon for pulverized debris from demolition and construction sites. Recology claimed that 33,639 tons of this material was not, in fact, put into landfill but diverted from landfill.

But Recology specifically sprinkled these millions of pounds of fines atop landfill as state-mandated "daily cover" to stifle odors in 2008 — yet claimed the material was actually diverted. That made the difference in allowing the company to declare that it had done enough to earn that diversion bonus.

Recology spokesman Sam Singer claimed that, in point of fact, his employer won a great victory in court last month. Of dozens and dozens of charges, the jury sided with the plaintiffs on just the one — resulting in that $1.3 million judgment. That total, however, exceeds the cumulative potential damages of nearly all the other charges. While the plaintiffs lost on nearly every count, they prevailed on the big-ticket item.

So, both sides claim success. And both sides say they'll appeal the verdict. Recology hopes the ruling will be trashed. McVeigh's attorneys, however, will be asking for hefty interest payments and a tripling of the damages San Francisco customers are due — to some $6 million.

In the end, only a judge can decide. The warring parties, meanwhile, continue to engage in trash-talk.

About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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