Other cities have zero waste policies but L.A.’s new contract requirements are being touted as the nation’s toughest, and are being studied carefully by New York City, San Diego and others.
Six years ago, when I moved from a bungalow to a swank apartment near Venice Beach, I was dismayed to learn my building had no recycling bin. Instead, a single, beat-up dumpster sat behind the structure in an alleyway to receive unsorted trash from residents in all nine units.
You have to hand it to libertarian writer John Tierney. He doesn’t give up easily. His long-winded 1996 article, “Recycling Is Garbage,” allegedly smashed the New York Times Magazine‘s hate-mail record. It covered the same ground as his recent New York Times op-ed, “The Reign of Recycling,” stating: “Recycling may be the most wasteful activity in modern America: a waste of time and money, a waste of human and natural resources.”
Is recycling really “the most wasteful activity in modern America?” That’s quite a charge. (What about all that Kardashian coverage?) But it may be true that it would be cheaper to put all our waste in a hole someplace and forget about it. Assuming, as Tierney does, that there are enough conveniently located holes. It would be even cheaper to use the medieval method of tossing it in the street.
Imagine walking outside and breathing fresh air instead of today’s exhaust. Imagine taking your lunch scraps to a compost bin while a modern trash truck makes its way down your street. And then imagine the convenience of tossing your recyclables into a blue bin, and knowing that this has lowered your trash bill while helping the environment.
Los Angeles is on track to becoming a national environmental leader with its landmark Zero Waste LA system, which covers waste and recycling collection for apartments and businesses. In April, the Zero Waste LA policy was adopted by Los Angeles’ City Council. The system will carve out 11 exclusive waste franchise zones that will reduce truck traffic and increase recycling and composting – with three of the zones designed to incubate small waste haulers’ growing businesses and protecting long-term competition.
The next step — the Request for Proposals, or RFP — was just approved by the Board of Public Works on June 11,
On Tuesday — April Fools’ Day no less — Los Angeles’ City Council nearly unanimously approved the Zero Waste LA Franchise System, which would make it the first and largest city nationally to adopt a robust plan to move towards Zero Waste. The Zero Waste LA Franchise System, under the direction of the City of Los Angeles’ Bureau of Sanitation, will transform the antiquated waste and recycling system that currently serves apartment dwellers and businesses. In its place will emerge an innovative model for the nation. This new system will carve the city into 11 waste service zones intended to boost recycling and provide strong customer service – a similar success found in the city’s single-family waste and recycling programs.
The Zero Waste LA franchise plan specifically requires trash-hauling companies to bid for exclusive contracts to operate in the 11 waste service zones. This will help the city to meet its Zero Waste goals,
You may have seen Puente Hills while driving the 60 Freeway east of Los Angeles. It looks like a 700-acre, 450-foot-high, tree-covered mountain. However, only a few small hills were there when the facility opened in 1957. The mountain itself is made from seven decades of Southern California’s waste.
Puente Hills Landfill accepted its final truckloads of waste yesterday. Today, what was the country’s largest landfill is closed – a milestone in the environmental history of Southern California and the country.
Puente Hills had been taking in a third of the waste of Los Angeles County, as much as 13,000 tons per day at its recent peak. While some workers will remain for the next year-plus, putting a final cover on the site, hundreds of trucks that used to dump there every day will be headed elsewhere. Don’t Waste LA and others concerned for our environment and communities are working to make sure those trucks eventually head somewhere other than the next landfill on a new hillside.
Many of us try to be diligent about putting our empty bottles and cans in the blue recycling bin, but what do we do with our apple peels and coffee grounds? Can our lunch leftovers impact the air we breathe and the local economy?
All too often, these food scraps end up in a landfill, where they decompose and emit dangerous levels of methane — a greenhouse gas considered 21 times more damaging to the climate than carbon dioxide. Businesses and residents from the City of Los Angeles send approximately 1.2 million tons of food scraps and yard waste into landfills each year, equivalent to the weight of 600,000 automobiles. Such compostable “organic” material forms nearly a third of California’s landfilled waste.
Recycling instead of landfilling our organic materials only improves our environment, it creates jobs. The Tellus Institute calculated that recovering and recycling our organic materials creates nearly twice the number of jobs as when the same materials are disposed.
This week the Partnership for Working Families released Transforming Trash in Urban America, a report that underscores the urgent need to reform the way America’s largest cities deal with their trash.
The report reviewed the waste management infrastructure of the top 37 metropolitan areas in the United States and found that environmentally unsound waste disposal processes create strain on local budgets, degrade a city’s quality of life and seriously accelerate climate change. Nearly half of the cities involved have recycling rates in the teens or lower— significantly below the national average of 34 percent.
Transforming Trash presents San Francisco, Seattle and San Jose as models for reform. These cities have created sustainable recycling infrastructure that has notably decreased the amount of trash sent to landfills, while creating good jobs and stimulating local economies.
According to the report, the ideal sustainable recycling system has the following five elements.
Progress, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. Witness the reaction to today’s landmark L.A. City Council vote, approving the implementation plan for a far-reaching overhaul of the city’s multi-family and commercial waste and recycling system.
The plan, which passed 10-3, puts L.A. squarely in the forefront of a growing national movement to transform the way cities deal with waste. For the first time companies will have to meet a set of environmental and labor standards in order to operate. Under this exclusive franchise system, the city will be divided into 11 zones, with companies competing to be the sole operator within each zone.
Among those celebrating the City Council’s decision were environmentalists, waste workers and small business owners, who as part of the Don’t Waste LA coalition have driven the campaign to reform L.A.’s waste and recycling industry. Less enthusiastic were certain industry lobbyists and big business advocates,
There’s a growing impatience amongst those committed to pushing L.A. to meet its ambitious Zero Waste goals. For years, the Don’t Waste LA Coalition, which includes Sierra Club, Coalition for Clean Air, Sustain L.A. and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), has been pushing to address the large portion of trash that goes to landfills from businesses and large apartment buildings. Addressing this sector will be a game changer for L.A. And after an arduous process with a multitude of hearings, workshops, and meetings, we’re ready to move forward.
Right now, the open permit system that handles waste from businesses and large apartment buildings has failed us. Its bottom barrel competition has left us with a measly 19 percent diversion rate for businesses in L.A. And, despite the best effort from business lobbyists to defend this type of program, we’ve seen a lack of effort to live up to the environmental stewardship demanded in a city like Los Angeles.
Last week the L.A. Bureau of Sanitation released its initial draft implementation plan for moving to an exclusive franchise for businesses and large apartment buildings in the City of Los Angeles. As you recall, at the November vote, the L.A, City Council asked the Bureau to return in 90 days to provide an update on how to implement an exclusive franchise. The product released today demonstrates that the Bureau has taken to heart the resounding message from L.A. City Council that it wants an environmentally forward-thinking plan that protects workers and communities, in addition to stabilizing chaotic waste rates. Even though I have only had a little bit of time to review it, I am very impressed with the initial draft implementation plan.
The stakes are high as outlined in the report. A little under 70 percent of the waste L.A. sends to landfills comes from businesses and large apartment buildings.
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,
The best measure of progress is often the desperation of its opponents. So if there were any doubt about the significance of Wednesday’s L.A. City Council vote to transform the city’s multi-family and commercial waste and recycling system, the shrillness of those in the minority offered final proof.
“This is the day justice and democracy died,” declared one detractor. He was outdone, however, by a fellow naysayer, who, invoking the ghosts of Stalinist Russia, bellowed, “Vote straight communist – the life you save will be your own. That’s what’s happening here today.”
Aside from the minions of big business interests following in lockstep with the Chamber of Commerce, there were few traces of authoritarian rule at City Hall yesterday when the Council made its decision to jettison a system that has failed almost everybody. Indeed, democracy seemed alive and well, with an overflow crowd both participating in and witnessing an epic exercise in self-government.
Over the last couple of years, I’ve blogged about waste reform in the City of Los Angeles. Following is a summary of where we are with the proposed waste reform so folks just tuning in, and those who have followed the twists and turns, have one central place for background as our the city council takes up this important issue in the coming weeks.
Disposal of waste is perhaps one of the most pressing environmental issues the City of Los Angeles faces. Los Angeles sends approximately three million tons of trash per year to landfills. This practice exacts a large environmental toll. The City has already promised to become a zero waste City by 2030. This entails interim goals of achieving 70 percent diversion from landfills by 2013 and 90 percent by 2025.
L.A.’s commercial and multi-family sectors are responsible for approximately 70 percent of the waste the City of Los Angeles send to landfills,
When you compare big business’ rationale for opposing an exclusive commercial waste franchise system with the proposal they’re pushing for now, the two are hard to distinguish.
Don’t Waste LA is calling for an exclusive franchise system to serve our businesses and apartment complexes, consistent with the path taken by 55 other Los Angeles and Orange County cities, along with San Francisco, San Jose, Oakland, Seattle and countless cities up and down the state. The coalition joins the City’s Bureau of Sanitation, the environmental community, waste experts and high-road haulers in arguing that exclusive systems are the only legitimate path for the city to reach its Zero Waste, clean air, job and health and safety goals.
On the other side, Angelenos for a Clean Environment (ACE), as pure an embodiment of “astro-turf” advocacy as has ever been seen in L.A., is a coalition organized by business lobbyist Cerrell Associates,
Last week, more than 30 citations were issued by the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Cal/OSHA) to a waste recycling company called American Reclamation, Inc., its subsidiaries and a temporary employment agency. The citations dealt with serious violations at a material recovery facility in Los Angeles, which is where trash is sorted by hand to remove recyclables from other waste.
Cal/OSHA cited the company for violations of health and safety standards,
failure to train workers properly and a host of other unlawful practices. I’m happy that our state health and safety enforcers caught these violations, but I fear that the lack of enforcement resources in California means many other violations at other facilities are slipping through the cracks.
Coming off a thrilling victory on banning plastic bags, the City of L.A.’s next waste discussion centers on taming the currently out-of-control open permit system that governs how waste is collected for business and large apartment buildings.