Recycling may help, but it cannot solve the garbage crisis in Los Angeles County, Sherman Roodzant, chairman of the state Waste Management Board, told a waste disposal conference in Monrovia last week.
Roodzant said trash incineration plants and landfills will be needed to handle the area's trash, even though those alternatives are not as popular as recycling.
Speaking at a conference organized by the cities of Duarte and Bell to promote recycling and composting as waste disposal alternatives, Roodzant was clearly skeptical about how much trash can be recycled instead of buried or burned.
He said there is no point in requiring residents to segregate newspapers, glass and cans unless there is a market for the materials.
"If there is no market for the product, we may have to send it to the landfill anyway," he said.
In an interview after his speech, Roodzant said cities with strong programs are recycling 8% to 12% of their residential trash. To suggest, as some have, that it is possible to raise that amount to 50% overnight, he said, "is preposterous."
Roodzant said trash-burning plants will be built in urban areas that do not have space for landfills. Recent legislation authored by Assemblywoman Sally Tanner (D-El Monte) calls for each area of Los Angeles County to establish a plan to handle its own trash. The legislation was prompted by complaints from the San Gabriel Valley, whose dumps receive more than half the trash generated countywide.
Although public opposition to trash burners, based on environmental and health concerns, has killed projects in Azusa, Irwindale, Los Angeles and Pomona, Roodzant told the conference: "I'm not embarrassed to tell you that our board strongly supports waste-to-energy."
Roodzant said he is so certain that it is safe to live near a waste-to-energy plant that he recently moved his family to Cerritos, midway between the county's first trash incineration plant, in the City of Commerce, and a second plant under construction in Long Beach.
However, Roodzant acknowledged the unpopularity of trash burners in the San Gabriel Valley and said: "We are not here to push it down your throat."
Despite his skepticism about recycling, Roodzant said commercial businesses should be doing much more of it. And, he noted, the Waste Management Board is sponsoring a conference in Los Angeles in March to explore the markets for recyclable materials.
The Waste Management Board contributed $20,000 to underwrite the Monrovia conference, which was designed to give city officials and others a chance to talk with people from across the country who are operating composting and recycling systems.
Duarte Mayor John Hitt said that the area's dumps are being filled up and that because waste-to-energy plants are not acceptable in the San Gabriel Valley, the area must look for alternatives.
David Morris, co-director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, which helps communities deal with urban problems, told the conference that great economic benefits can come from recycling.
The problem, he said, is that "officials view garbage as a disposal problem, not an economic opportunity."
For example, instead of spending $500 million to burn garbage in the San Gabriel Valley, as was once proposed, Morris said, the area could make the same kind of investment in recycling operations that would take care of trash and also create 6,000 jobs.
"We're talking about a new way of thinking, a different vision of our future," he said.
"The garbage crisis gives us a new opportunity."
Neil Seldman, director of waste utilization at the Washington-based Institute for Local Self-Reliance, said communities should not be deterred from recycling by worries about markets for the salvaged materials. He said cities with strong recycling programs attract industries that can make use of the materials.