How L.A.’s Waste System Trashes Our Streets & Our Health

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February 7, 2013 in Environment

When I moved to East Hollywood a number of years ago, I asked a friend who lived next door if it was a quiet neighborhood. “No,” she said, “there’s a different trash truck every morning, sometimes more than one, sometimes at 6 a.m. If it weren’t for that, it would be quiet.”

Unfortunately, she was right. We would get stuck behind trucks on our way to work as they blocked our narrow neighborhood street. Our block was lucky enough to get repaved roads — but they were immediately destroyed by the heavy trash trucks, which carved deep ruts into the new finish and leaked trash juice into the setting asphalt.

A few years later, I started working in the Northeast San Fernando Valley, a low-income community of color where many of the city’s industries and pollution sources are concentrated. In Pacoima, I observed how the 10 or so trash trucks we’d seen each week in East Hollywood, and the trucks from adjacent neighborhoods, end up in the residential streets of the Northeast Valley on their way to the processing facilities and landfills clustered there. More than a thousand trucks from across the city stream into the Northeast Valley’s facilities, contaminating an already overburdened community wrestling with pollution source piled on top of pollution source.

In L.A.’s current non-exclusive permit system, each landlord or commercial building has to contract separately with a hauling company. The result is that L.A. has more than 1,000 private trash trucks driving over 28 million miles a year.

While my neighbors and I quickly wearied of trucks clogging neighborhoods and crumbling our streets, the much graver concern is the dirty diesel pollution they’re belching. A loophole in existing regulations means that private haulers in L.A. don’t currently have to meet the South Coast Air Quality Management District’s rigid clean-fuel standards. This allows haulers to operate their old, dirty trucks on our streets. These trucks are one of the reasons that our city is consistently ranked “smoggiest” in the country. Researchers estimate that 10 percent of L.A. County’s deaths each year are attributable to air pollution — that’s about 5,500 people or more each year that might not have died if we cleaned up our air.

That’s why clean air, along with good jobs and recycling for all, is one of three founding priorities of our Don’t Waste LA coalition — and that’s why we’re so excited that L.A. is moving forward with an exclusive franchise system. An exclusive franchise will require private haulers to upgrade their trucks to clean fuel technology and comply with SCAQMD Rule 1193. Beyond that, an exclusive franchise will address the root issue of too many trucks on the road, dramatically increasing efficiency in truck routes and cutting down significantly on the number of trucks clogging and crumbling our streets and contaminating our air.

We’re proud to share our new infographic, which illustrates how an exclusive franchise system will help clean up our air by reducing the trucks and truck traffic on our streets. Special thanks to Don’t Waste LA intern Gabriel Peterson for his tremendous contribution, and to the talented graphic design team of Colleen Corcoran and Rosten Woo.

Please share this infographic with friends, family and co-workers — we want Angelenos to understand how an exclusive franchise will make life better in all our communities, especially those such as Pacoima and Sun Valley. Closer to home, I’m looking forward to the day when the morning “beep, beep, beep” will just be my alarm clock, not a dirty diesel truck.

(Lauren Ahkiam is a Research & Policy Analyst on the Don’t Waste LA campaign.)

(To enlarge infographic: Right click image, then choose “View Image.”)

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