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Valley Perspective

Automated Program Caps Long-Term Recycling Plan

The new residential containers mark the last phase of the city's 10-year effort to dump less into landfills.

September 21, 1997|HAL BERNSON | Los Angeles City Councilman Hal Bernson represents the northwestern San Fernando Valley

Valley residents have put up with the noise and pollution of landfills for decades. Whether it's Lopez Canyon or Sunshine Canyon, living near one is the antithesis of peace. Although I spent years trying to close Sunshine Canyon Landfill, it remains open. The reality is that if we cannot close landfills today--we should try to eliminate them--we can control what we dump there.

The time has come for Los Angeles to redefine what it considers trash and what it considers recyclable. That can only be accomplished by giving residents a more convenient system and more capacity.

Last week, the long-awaited automated residential recycling program hit the ground in the west San Fernando Valley. Over the next 18 months, residents citywide will be receiving a 90-gallon blue recycling container to replace their 14-gallon yellow bin. What goes in the new blue? Everything you put in your yellow bin (glass bottles, aluminum cans, plastic jugs, aerosol and empty paint cans), including clean paper products (newspaper, junk mail, cereal boxes, scrap paper, cardboard, telephone books, even old love letters). It's sort of a "recycling soup," versus the old system of separating materials.

In a six-month pilot program conducted last year by the Bureau of Sanitation, recycling collection using the blue container increased 148%, from an average of 6 pounds per household to 16. By eliminating the hassle of separating recyclables, participation increased 84%. Scavenging virtually disappeared in pilot areas, good news for residents and the Los Angeles Police Department.

Those figures translate into fewer trips to landfills and, for every ton of recyclables collected, a savings to the city of about $35 in tipping fees to privately owned landfills.

There is a legal angle in this, too. The 1989 California Integrated Waste Management Act required all municipalities to divert 25% of their waste stream from landfills by 1995 and requires 50% by 2000. Noncompliance could result in fines of up to $10,000 per day. The good news is that Los Angeles is diverting 40% and is on track to meet, if not exceed, 50% by 2000.

In the late 1980s, under direction of the City Council and mayor, Los Angeles began searching for alternatives to putting garbage in landfills. We made the financial and environmental commitment to develop a master plan, launch an effective citywide curbside recycling program and implement a fully automated program within 10 years that would cost taxpayers less in the long run--and it has.

With the roll-out of this program, the final piece is in place. Looking back, I believe we made the right decision. Looking forward, I believe this is our best option. Reduce, reuse and recycle.

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