Taking out the trash, that most wearisome of weekly chores, is about to become a more challenging proposition as the Los Angeles City Council on Wednesday approved a landmark mandatory trash recycling program.
After the unanimous vote, Mayor Tom Bradley said he will sign the measure into law, setting into motion one of the largest urban recycling projects in the nation. The program, at a cost to taxpayers of $160 million, will be phased in over three years.
The recycling proposal, the subject of two years of practical planning and political debate, is intended to cut in half the amount of trash deposited in the city's rapidly filling dumps.
It would require all 720,000 single-family households in the city to separate glass and plastic bottles, aluminum cans and newspaper into different containers for curbside collection. Reusable materials will eventually be sold by the city to recyclers.
"The era of the disposable society, when cans and papers can be carelessly tossed aside, is coming to an end," Bradley said. "Through this plan, the city now establishes a 'no-excuses-accepted' policy when it comes to recycling. We will make it easy for all to get involved."
Many pragmatic details have yet to be worked out, including what to do with the trash generated by apartment dwellers and disposal of grass clippings and the like.
A proposal was introduced before the council Wednesday to consider forcing private trash haulers in the city to also recycle. Currently, waste produced by businesses and apartment buildings with more than six units is collected by private haulers, and it accounts for about two-thirds of all waste generated in Los Angeles. The private trash hauler proposal is not expected to be resolved for months or even years.
Beginning in September, 1990, however, homeowners in Eagle Rock and El Sereno will be the first required under the law to have their trash separated for pickup by specially retrofitted sanitation trucks.
Other neighborhoods will be brought in systematically over the next 2 1/2 years. The gradual approach will allow the city's fleet of 400 trucks to be equipped with automated processing gear, the staff to be trained and markets for the reusable material to be developed.
Homeowners will use one 16-gallon plastic bin for bottles and cans and a 90-gallon container suitable for collection of the rest of their household waste. Newspapers will be piled on top of the can bin.
The proposal is seen as but one partial solution to a looming landfill crisis that has concerned homeowners and environmentalists and stymied urban planners. Los Angeles is running out of room to dump its garbage, and the dangers to the environment posed by existing landfills mount daily.
The estimated $160-million cost for the first three years of the program is considered by the city's planners as a good long-term investment. The price of property suitable for landfill is expected to skyrocket as it grows more scarce. By halving the amount of waste bound for landfills, the city can double the life of dumps now in use, according to John Stodder, an aide to Mayor Bradley on environmental matters.
With the program, Los Angeles will join an estimated 1,000 cities nationwide that currently recycle. But the size of Los Angeles' effort will eclipse all but possibly New York in scope.
An ongoing pilot program, which has tested the feasibility of the approach at 95,000 Los Angeles households, already ranks among the largest recycling efforts in the nation. If lawn waste is eventually added to the program, the city would recycle more material than any in the nation, said Jerry Powell, editor of Resource Recycling magazine in Portland, Ore.
Some cities, including Santa Monica and Pasadena, already have forms of curbside recycling. Currently, there is no serious political movement toward countywide recycling.
The measure adopted by the council Wednesday, the final council meeting of the year, lays out the basic structure of the household recycling program but poses many questions.
For instance, it has not yet been determined who will pay the cost of the hundreds of thousands of bins and cans--the homeowner or the city.
Also, while the program will be mandatory, it has not yet been decided how to enforce it.
Del Biagi, director of the Bureau of Sanitation, said some of the methods being considered include adoption of a unique plan from Rockford, Ill. In that city, sanitation workers pick one household weekly for a surprise inspection to determine that no recyclable materials have been included in the trash. If the homeowner passes the test, he is presented with a check for $1,000.
"For $52,000 a year, that might be a pretty good way" to persuade people to participate in Los Angeles, Biagi said.
Similarly, city planners have recommended that scavenging materials from curbside for private sale be outlawed. New York officials have taken the extreme position of having armed peace officers patrol and issue tickets to offenders.