The Thousand Oaks City Council has rejected a proposal to force citizens to recycle, eliminating the threat of harsh penalties for residents who choose not to separate their beer bottles from their apple cores.
Instead, the council decided to stick with the voluntary recycling programs that have so far proved successful in helping the city slash the amount of garbage sent to landfills.
"I would never support fining people $1,000 or throwing them in jail if they failed to recycle," Mayor Elois Zeanah said. "Voluntary recycling works in our community."
With little debate, council members late Tuesday directed staff to rewrite parts of a new trash law by deleting the clauses that said residents "shall" divide waste into separate containers for recyclables, yard clippings and ordinary refuse. The council then unanimously adopted the law.
The revised wording allows residents to mix recyclables with other trash. Citizens and business owners also retain the right to sell cans, copper wire and other recyclables to private buy-back centers.
But the new law does contain some strict controls on solid waste.
All residents, for example, are required to subscribe to trash collection services. About 95% of the city's households already have regular garbage collection, and the remaining few will be asked to sign up. Curbside recycling is automatically included in the monthly trash collection bill.
"You don't have to participate, but you do have to pay for it," Public Works Director Donald Nelson said.
Another provision of the trash law--which replaces a solid waste ordinance written in 1976--requires all private recyclers to obtain city permits.
Staff members promised that the permit process would be simple, quick and cheap--little more than a registration, so the city can tabulate how many tons are recycled each year. But council members, wary of snaring small businesses in red tape, asked staff to monitor the effect on private recyclers.
"It is not our intent to be punitive to anyone who doesn't participate in recycling, nor is it our intent to put any small recyclers out of business," Councilman Alex Fiore said.
Despite the unanimous support for voluntary recycling, some council members said they feared the city might eventually need to impose mandatory programs in order to meet state requirements for diverting waste from landfills.
City staff hopes to meet those state targets by expanding three small pilot programs set up to help homeowners recycle green waste. They're also counting on existing programs, which allow residents to recycle Christmas trees and household hazardous waste, such as paint and batteries.
Finally, solid waste planner Carolyn Greene said she believes that more education, perhaps combined with financial incentives, will boost the number of residents who regularly recycle their cans and newspapers.
About 75% of households set out a recycling container for curbside pickup at least once a month, Green said.
To prod the remaining 25% toward environmental correctness, Councilwoman Jaime Zukowski said she hoped the city would set a good example by buying, using and promoting recycled products.
Zukowski recently asked staff to analyze the feasibility of mandating that all city-sponsored events use recycled or recyclable products, even if they cost slightly more.
"Hand in hand with updating our ordinance, we've got to show what we can do as a city," Zukowski said.