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Waste Violations Hurt L.A. Workers and the Environment





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.  It is a system that leads to the violations reported last week.  It is also a system that inhibits us from truly maximizing recycling at the city’s businesses and large apartment buildings.

L.A. is at a fork in the road where it can decide on a band-aid solution or developing a comprehensive, accountable system to manage waste for the commercial and multi-family sectors.  The Board of Public Works, after consultation with its award-winning Bureau of Sanitation and a prominent waste consulting firm, has decided the most benefits come from an exclusive franchise model.  The Natural Resources Defence Council (NRDC) and all our coalition partners in the Don’t Waste LA coalition prefer a comprehensive exclusive franchise system with high standards.  We agree with the conclusions from the Board of Public Works that an exclusive franchise system provides the best strategy to make our waste system have the smallest environmental footprint while concurrently creating the most accountability.

While some lobbyists representing big business interests and some trash hauling companies are promoting a meager solution, these band-aid proponents weave a story of a market that functions fine.  But the story of the citations for health and safety violations tells a very different narrative.  It describes a race to the bottom where companies cut corners.

I agree that there are responsible companies in the waste industries, and a new system with higher standards will compel these responsible companies to do even better, including remedying the abysmal 19 percent rate that waste companies send to diversion facilities for the commercial sector in L.A.  Unfortunately, I hear too many stories where companies sacrifice workers, the environment and our neighborhoods for quick profits.  We can and must demand more.

We cannot have a system that allows any corners to be cut — whether they are workforce related, community impact related or associated with meeting the city’s ambitious zero waste promise.  Ultimately, we rely on our waste workers to meet these important environmental goals.  So, in addition to the moral imperative to ensure safe working conditions, we need to protect workers to meet our environmental goals.

This corner-cutting and lack of accountability is why we are fighting so hard in the face of a well-financed big business campaign full of high-dollar lobbyists who are pounding City Hall to maintain the status quo, or some version of the status quo, with window dressing.  I admit that it is a big lift to transform the waste industry, but we owe it to the waste workers, ourselves and future generations to develop the accountable and comprehensive waste system for the future.  It is far past time for half-steps and non-measures.

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