Recology truck
Recology on Camp Street. Photo by Lydia Chávez May 2021

You know what they say: one person’s trash is another person’s treasure. 

As a result of a settlement that aims to rectify corruption and overinflated hike rates at Recology, the company said in a statement it will pay San Franciscans about $86.6 million dollars. Any San Francisco customer that used Recology services at any time from July 1, 2017, to March 31, 2021, will be eligible for a refund. Award amounts depend on a customer’s service, how long they had an account, and how much they were billed. If residents are fine with checks, they needn’t lift a finger — Recology will send those automatically. But if one prefers digital payment, the deadline to claim funds is tomorrow, July 30, by 11:59 p.m. 

All eligible residential and commercial customers should have already gotten a postcard or an email with a unique ID and pin, which were sent in early July, according to Recology. With that information, users can log in and choose a payment of choice: PayPal, Zelle, Venmo, or a physical check. Those who want electronic payment can opt in here

If you miss the deadline, Recology will send a physical check to customers anyway. Money should be expected electronically as of August 6, and checks will be mailed to billing addresses after August 6.

“As a 100% employee-owned company, nothing matters more to us than our relationships with our customers, so Recology is committed to making things right and issuing payments as quickly as possible,” a statement from Recology said.

“In the meantime, our team of dedicated employee-owners will continue to provide uninterrupted service, day in and day out, to help deliver the exceptional resource recovery programs that have made San Francisco the greenest city in America.”

Recology, which has maintained a monopoly on handling San Francisco’s trash removal services since 1932, was caught up in an alleged plot to raise residents’ garbage rates. 

In March, the company agreed to pay back San Francisco clients, which will be mailed or deposited electronically soon. That same month, the city attorney filed a lawsuit against the company for its failure to report anticipated revenue to the city’s garbage rate board in 2017. City Attorney Dennis Herrera told Mission Local that he estimates some 160,000 clients were affected. 

“Effective July 1, 2017, Recology began receiving at least $22 million a year more from residential and commercial rate payers than was justified,” the March lawsuit reads

After the rates jumped, Recology directed $11.5 million to the Department of the Environment and $8.5 million to the Department of Public Works — which was run by Mohammed Nuru, who was arrested by the FBI in January, 2020.

Recology continued to use the higher rates for two years after it had notified Nuru, Public Works, and the Department of the Environment about the rate error in 2018, and none of these corrected it. Turns out there may have been a reason why. 

Nuru allegedly accepted $1 million in bribes that went to nonprofit funds he controlled — including one account that leads back to Recology. Those bribes came a la former Recology executive Paul Giusti, who too, faces federal charges for money laundering and bribery in relation to higher garbage rates. Investigations found Nuru used the funds from these accounts to finance opulent parties. 

In October 2020, Mission Local reported that two groups, Recology and San Francisco Clean City Coalition, put up most of the money found in one of these accounts in 2015 and 2020. Further examination found that most of Clean City’s contributions actually derived from Recology. In that period, San Francisco rates spiked more than 20 percent, and were lobbied for and approved under Nuru, Public Works, and a city board Nuru strongly influenced. 

Will the city rid itself of Recology? Hard to say. Voters nearly immortalized Recology’s trash service monopoly in 1932, and undoing that requires eliminating the city ordinance. The city proposed re-upping its contract with Recology in February 2020 before the charges came out. That contract said the company gets no more than $62.5 million from December 2020 until November 2026. 

Since the charges, however, supervisors have been  trying to figure out how to finagle out of the contract. If they manage to get out of the 1932 ordinance, the trash collection can go to the city or be put out to bid for other contractors. That’s up to politicians and voters, however. Until then, Mission Local reported that Recology allegedly told supervisors it would continue trash collection at its prior rate until a new contract is reached.  

For any additional problems or questions, please contact the Payment Administrator by calling toll-free at 1-855-654-0939 or write to:

Recology Payment Administrator 

P.O. Box 2876

Portland, OR 97208-2876

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Annika Hom is our inequality reporter through our partnership with Report for America. Annika was born and raised in the Bay Area. She previously interned at SF Weekly and the Boston Globe where she focused on local news and immigration. She is a proud Chinese and Filipina American. She has a twin brother that (contrary to soap opera tropes) is not evil.

Follow her on Twitter at @AnnikaHom.

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  1. Can you, or anyone, explain what a “employee-owned company” means? Is it a cooperative? Do employees elect a Board? Do employees vote on personnel and pay issues? Do employees share profits? How strange that everything has changed in this city since the 30s except monopolized private trash collection.

  2. RecologySF is making this awkward and difficult to get the payment (not a surprise). I got an email saying I haven’t cashed the check that I never got, and then when you try and call the number you are on hold for 20 minutes. It’s ridiculous and recologysf is still trying to get away with stuff. Lame.

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