First it was bottles and cans. Then it was cardboard and lawn clippings. And next month, Los Angeles officials will ask a select group of residents to reuse coffee grounds, eggshells and other leftovers -- by placing them in yet another recycling bin.
The Los Angeles City Council, looking to stay at the vanguard of recycling, voted Tuesday for an experimental garbage pickup program that will ask some residents to take on a fourth city-issued refuse can: a small indoor bin to hold table scraps.
Residents of single-family homes and small apartment buildings already lug three oversized bins to the curb -- blue for recycling, green for lawn clippings and black for everything else.
Now, officials from the city's Bureau of Sanitation said they would distribute new 2-gallon kitchen pails to nearly 5,000 households in Harbor Gateway, Lincoln Heights and South Los Angeles, allowing residents of those neighborhoods to dispose of bones and tea bags, as well as "food-soiled" materials, such as pizza boxes.
City officials hope that participants in the table-scrap collection program will embrace the idea of separating their kitchen waste -- dumping it in the new city-issued green pail and later emptying that pail into their green 60-gallon curbside bins, which now collect only leaves, tree branches and other green waste.
"It's really not that big of an imposition to ask them to do this," said Stanton Lewis, an environmental engineering associate with the Bureau of Sanitation. "But it is a mind-set change, to take that extra step of putting [leftover food] into our kitchen pail rather than the regular trash bin."
Although the program has not yet been officially publicized, one San Fernando Valley resident said she would welcome the program in her part of the city. "I live in Woodland Hills and would do it in a heartbeat," said commercial real estate agent Cindy Randall. "First of all, I'm concerned about the environment. I think too much goes to waste and too much sits in landfills."
A survey conducted by city officials in 2002 found that single-family homes generate 230,000 tons of food waste annually that could be turned into compost. That survey found nearly 27% of the garbage in the black bins was food waste.
With leftovers in the large green bin, green waste such as lawn clippings will "absorb fugitive liquids" from food waste, limiting the smell, according to a city report. Under the pilot program, the commingled green waste will be delivered to a composting center near Bakersfield, Lewis said.
The $140,000 pilot program will start next month and follow in the footsteps of more than a dozen other California cities, many of them in the San Francisco Bay Area, that have created food-scrap collection programs.
To get the program to reach each of Los Angeles' 750,000 sanitation customers, the council would need to spend $13 million, roughly half of it on the new kitchen pails. A citywide program could divert as much as 600 tons of waste from locations such as Sunshine Canyon Landfill, according to the report.
Councilwoman Jan Perry, who heads the council's Energy and Environment Committee, said she wanted to see how many people participate in the program before extending it citywide.
"It will need some kind of a marketing program to get people interested in this," she said.