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Apartments Added to Mix of Recycling

Ecology: The city effort, the first of its kind locally, will operate for a year at Reseda, Encino and Tarzana complexes.


RESEDA — When city officials asked if Charley Peetris would participate in a curbside recycling program targeting apartment complexes, he took 11 bins for his tenants.

When a Department of Sanitation truck rolled into his parking lot Thursday, six of the bins--delivered just a week ago--were full.

"Several [tenants] have stopped by to say they are glad we are doing this," said Peetris, manager of a Sherman Way complex.

The program, the first of its kind in Los Angeles, kicked off Thursday and will operate in Reseda, Encino and Tarzana for a year.

Residents in some complexes there can now place newspapers, plastic and glass in special bins that will be picked up by city workers.

The city has provided curbside recycling to single-family homes and buildings with up to four units for the past seven years. But residents in apartment complexes--which represent about 45% of the city's housing--had no access to the program, largely because they traditionally have been served by private refuse companies.

Only about 15% of the trash delivered to landfills comes from apartment complexes, according to the city's Bureau of Sanitation.

Over the years, such complexes have received sporadic recycling services by companies, said Lupe Maria Vela, manager of the Bureau of Sanitation's Integrated Solid Waste Office. She said many companies begin and end programs abruptly and many will not service complexes with less than 50 units because it is not profitable.

But if the West Valley program is successful, city officials say curbside recycling could become a permanent apartment complex service. "Our goal is to take it citywide," said Councilwoman Laura Chick, in whose district the program will operate. "If we can do that, it will have a major impact on the amount of trash going into the landfills."

Chick said the idea occurred to her about four years ago.

At the time, other council members were also interested in the concept, but they preferred to wait until the curbside recycling program had established itself with single-family homes.

Today, about 2 million people in single-family homes use curbside recycling, according to the Bureau of Sanitation.

The West Valley, which recycles about 52% of its private residence trash--one of the highest rates in the city--seemed like the perfect place to expand the program, Chick said. The apartment complex program's boundaries are from Sherman Way to Ventura Boulevard and from Balboa Avenue to Tampa Avenue.

Sanitation officials contacted about 300 landlords or building owners in that area, and 71 of them--representing nearly 3,000 tenants--agreed to participate, Vela said.

"Many [landlords] said their tenants wanted to recycle but because of some barriers, [the landlords] could not do it," Vela said.

Those managers cited various reasons, including lack of space to store the blue bins. Some tenants are elderly and said they could not bring the bins to the curbside.

But at least one manager delegated the task to his teenage son.

The teenager "was so excited that he was going to take on this important task," Vela said.

The Bureau of Sanitation two years ago began replacing yellow 16-gallon containers with the 90-gallon bins at single-family dwellings. The larger bins will also be used in the pilot program.

The bins not only hold greater volumes, but people also do not have to separate the various types of recyclables. "What we are looking for is convenience," said Tim McNamara, senior management analyst with the Bureau of Sanitation.

If apartment complex recycling grows, it could aid the city's effort to comply with federal and state environmental laws, according to officials. The city now diverts about 46% of its trash from landfills--just short of the 50% required by 2000.

Thursday, the immediate convenience was more important for some tenants testing out the program. "I think it's an excellent idea," said Abraham Tharakan, 31, a Reseda tenant.

For months he had packed the recyclables in paper bags and trekked a few miles to a recycling center.

Said Tharakan: "It got to be a hassle. I might even renew my newspaper subscription now."

Cardenas is a Times staff writer and Satzman a correspondent.

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