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Recycling Resurfaces : An Old Idea Garners Renewed Enthusiasm

September 20, 1987|JEFFREY MILLER | Times Staff Writer

In 1986, the curb-side recycling program in San Jose had a net cost of $28,295, after selling off the recycled materials and collecting a voluntary 50-cent-a-month surcharge from residents, according to Richard Gertman, the city's recycling program's manager. El Cerrito's program, which offsets the cost of its curb-side collection service by operating a recycling center where residents drop off newspaper, bottles and cans, showed a profit of $13,000 in 1986, said Joel C. Witherell, director of the city's community services department.

Although the rising costs of landfills will make recycling more cost-effective in the future, curb-side recycling programs will never be self-sufficient, Petersen said.

"The more convenient you make recycling, the more it costs," said Gary M. Petersen, president of Ecolo-haul, which operates recycling programs in West Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley. "It's very tough to make curb-side recycling profitable. I've never seen it and I've been in this business for 15 years."

Degree of Cooperation Varies

Those who operate recycling programs say the degree to which residents are willing to participate often depends on their age, income, housing and education.

"It varies a great deal from area to area," said Debra Baine of Santa Monica Recycle, which has operated a curb-side recycling program in that city for 5 1/2 years. "In the single-family home areas we have participation of 80%. In (apartments and condominiums), we average anywhere from 17% to 38%."

Recycling is most popular, Baine said, among "single-family homes, more affluent neighborhoods, better educated people and senior citizens, who remember what it was like around World War II, when our society was much more conscious of recycling."

Although Berkeley, El Cerrito and San Jose all report that about 60% of their residents voluntarily recycle, participation in Claremont, which began its program in 1982 with funds from a state grant, is less than 40%. Most observers consider Claremont--an affluent residential community that is the home of six noted colleges--to be as receptive to recycling as any city in the San Gabriel Valley.

"It's a college town, they're environmentally aware," Breusch said. "That kind of town is going to take to (recycling) pretty easily. . . . In your more blue collar neighborhoods, it's not such a high priority. Those people work long days. They don't want to come home and sort through the trash."

The prospect that the majority of residents in the San Gabriel Valley would refuse to recycle has led many public officials to believe that recycling must be compulsory to be successful.

"I would favor mandatory source separation because people just aren't going to participate otherwise," said Walnut Mayor Holden.

Councilman Jim Kelley of South El Monte, who recently inspected the voluntary programs in Berkeley, El Cerrito and San Jose, agreed.

"I would like to have the program they have in El Cerrito, except to have it mandatory," Kelley said. "People are not going to want to do it until they don't get their trash picked up."

Claremont Mayor Judy Wright said that although mandatory recycling might be politically unpopular at first, constituents will accept it as the lesser of two evils.

"I think if it were presented to the voters as a choice between waste-to-energy and mandatory source separation, I have a feeling that mandatory source separation would come out on top," Wright said.

Baca said he believes that the public would support mandatory recycling, but he doubts that many city councils have the courage to impose it.

"The citizenry is really willing and able to take on that challenge," said Baca, who serves as a non-voting member on the Solid Waste Task Force's subcommittee on recycling. "It's generally the weak-kneed public official or city council person who is afraid he won't be elected if he makes the wrong decision.

"(Politicians) harbor great political fears that if they're the first ones to suggest (mandatory recycling), they'll be run out of office. A lot of those fears have been fanned by proponents of incineration. They've been successful at brainwashing the politicians."

Baca added that there may be some cities that would like to start comprehensive recycling programs, but don't have the finances to do it. But whether the problem with local cities is a lack of resolve or resources, both can be remedied by state legislation, he said.

"Our statewide politicians have a better vision of what the problem is and what the solutions might be, and I think they see the paralysis of the local governments," Baca said. "We need a state-mandated approach. There are many cities that can't do anything without the state. They need access to that money stream."

Statewide Program

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