LONG BEACH — Next spring, 10 years after officials first promised to bring a recycling program to the city, homes and businesses in Long Beach are supposed to begin sorting their trash.
On Tuesday, the City Council approved a recycling program that calls on residents to separate bottles, newspapers, containers and batteries from the city's yearly collection of 400,000 tons of trash.
Every home and business currently served by the city's refuse service--about half of them in the city--will be participating by next summer, if all goes according to plan. The city has not yet figured out which neighborhoods will begin recycling first.
The program attempts to comply with a state law, passed last year, which requires cities to cut the amount of waste they send to landfills in half by the end of the decade.
Failure to comply with the law could cost Long Beach up to $10,000 a day in fines. The recycling program is voluntary, for now. But if residents do not cooperate, city officials may need to impose fines. "The state has set up some real ambitious goals," the city's recycling coordinator, Jim Kuhl, said after Tuesday's meeting. "We don't have a lot of time left."
City leaders first promised a recycling plan 10 years ago, when they developed a two-part trash plan. The plan included a recycling program and the construction of an incinerator that would burn trash, converting it to energy.
The hulking incinerator sits on Terminal Island. But city officials have been so busy dealing with its legal, financial and operating problems that they put off developing the recycling program.
The only places to take bottles and cans for recycling were operated by private companies. The only people who used them were a relatively small number of residents and homeless people who needed the money from cans and bottles.
"Now recycling will be more convenient for everybody," Kuhl said.
About one in five Long Beach residences are to begin recycling next May. By July, that number should triple to nearly all of the 90,000 homes and apartment houses currently served by city refuse workers.
City officials plan to pass an ordinance that will require the private trash companies that haul the rest of the city's trash to offer customers a similar recycling service next year.
The program means residents will have to do some thinking before they toss out their garbage.
Metal, plastic and glass containers need to be washed and tossed into a special bin provided by the city. Newspapers must be wrapped in brown paper bags and put in the bin, too. Batteries can be put in a special pocket in the bin.
The city has not yet figured out what it wants residents to do with scraps from yards, such as tree trimmings and grass clippings.
Residents will be spared one step in the recycling process--they do not have to separate the various items. All metal, glass and plastic will be put into one bin, city officials said, because the city wants to keep things as simple as possible.
That will encourage participation, Kuhl said. Plus, it would have been difficult, he said, to translate the complicated rules for the city's ethnic populations.
The program is expected to cost each household up to $2 in addition to the $10 or so it is now paying to the city for refuse collection.
In a related program to begin next September, a new fleet of automated garbage trucks will haul garbage for about 20,000 homes. Officials hope to save the city thousands of dollars in personnel costs, which can be used to offset the start-up costs of the recycling program.
Residents will be charged for the new automated service based on the amount of garbage they produce every week. Officials hope that this will encourage people to turn to recycling as a way to cut down on their volume of garbage.
Ambitious as it sounds, the curb-side recycling program will result in only a 10% reduction in the household trash put out by roughly half of the city's homes, Kuhl said.
Most of the city's waste comes from yards and construction sites.
The city needs to figure out how to recycle these materials as well by July 1 to comply with state law, Kuhl said.
"We have an incredible amount of work to be done," Kuhl said. "But this program is a step in the right direction."
Most members of the City Council praised the program.
"We all have to realize that we live on a little old spaceship that is called Earth," Mayor Ernie Kell told the council. "It only contains so many natural resources, and when these are gone, these are gone. We have a moral obligation not to leave a pile of trash for our children and our grandchildren."
Warren Harwood, the only council member to vote against the measure, said he wanted more specific information on how much the program would cost and how it would be implemented. "We're writing a blank check," he said before the meeting. "The potential is great that this could just end up forcing residents to dig deeper into their own pockets."