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Study finds L.A.'s trash disposal system is wasteful and polluting

A report by the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy calls for the adoption of a franchise process to encourage competition and recycling.

January 27, 2011|By Patrick J. McDonnell, Los Angeles Times
  • A truck loaded with cardboard is ready to unload at the Los Angeles Recycling Center on Wednesday.
A truck loaded with cardboard is ready to unload at the Los Angeles Recycling… (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los…)

A labor-backed advocacy group issued a study Wednesday that labeled much of Los Angeles' trash-disposal system polluting and wasteful, and called for the adoption of a franchise process that could bolster recycling rates, provide green jobs and increase city revenue.

"What we have now is completely inefficient and chaotic, and we have to put some order to it," said City Councilman Jose Huizar.

Private haulers operate on a permit basis that critics say falls short of recycling goals and lacks standards and accountability. According to the study, the city has little control over where trash goes or how it is handled, and even "recycled" materials can end up in landfills.

While L.A. officials hail the city as a leader in recycling, the report notes that many people still don't have the option of recycling trash. Los Angeles residences and businesses still send a vast amount of waste — some 3.5 million tons annually — to landfills and incinerators, the study says.

The proposed move to a franchise system with competitive bidding, the study noted, comes as the region faces a looming crisis, with area landfills nearing capacity.

Improved trash collection provides both environmental and economic benefits, says the study, written by the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, a nonprofit group funded by foundations, labor unions and other donors. "Right now the system is a Wild West free for all," said Greg Good, an alliance staffer.

The study will form part of the debate as the City Council examines the franchise option in coming months, several council members said.

Ron Saldana, executive director of the Los Angeles County Disposal Assn., a trade group, said he hadn't seen the new report and couldn't comment on it. However, Saldana said the industry was open to the franchise concept as long as the process does not "stymie competition" and affords an "equal opportunity" to all qualified haulers.

Implementing a franchise procedure, proponents argue, would give the city more leverage in regulating rates, encouraging recycling, requiring the use of fuel-efficient garbage trucks and designating collection routes.

Los Angeles has two waste collection systems — the city's Bureau of Sanitation picks up trash at single-family homes and multi-family dwellings of four or fewer units. And more than 100 private haulers receive city permits to collect waste and recyclables from businesses, construction customers and large multi-family complexes. The study focuses on the private collection process.

While a large fleet of green vehicles services municipal sanitation clients, the report says, the private hauling sector features gas-guzzling trucks, uneven recycling, overlapping routes and a lack of oversight. The current system also probably shortchanges the city on permit fees and recycling revenue, the study concluded.

Another benefit of revamped trash collection and stepped-up recycling, the study said, is the potential creation of thousands of green jobs. For every job at a landfill, the report estimated, 10 positions could be created if trash were sorted and recycled rather than buried or burned.

patrick.mcdonnell@latimes.com

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