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Do You Want Mandatory Composting and Recycling?

Santa Monica presents plan to get to "zero waste," and it could mean a lifestyle change for residents.

Throwing out trash will require more thought for Santa Monica residents as the city works to divert more garbage—almost all of it—from area landfills.

Officials are talking about making it mandatory to place cardboard and plastic water bottles into a recycling bin, not a trash can. The city might also require residents to separate yard clippings and food scraps into a city-provided green collection container.

"Instead of discarding the materials, these are potentially valuable resources," said Michelle Leonard, a consultant working with city to draft a Zero Waste Plan that could radically reduce the amount of refuse dumped in landfills.

The goal is by 2030 to divert 95 percent of all garbage collected in Santa Monica into recycling and processing plants that convert waste into energy, heat, and fertilizer.

"We’re not talking about getting to no waste, we’re talking about not wasting  anything," Leonard said.

Banning certain types of waste from trash cans are among a number of radical changes proposed in the plan, a draft of which was presented to the City Council for the first time Tuesday night. The city's Resource Recovery & Recycling Manager Kim Braun described it as beautiful and detailed.

She acknowledged the plan will require some major "behavioral changes."

In 2011, Santa Monica generated 360,000 tons of trash—or about 3.6 pounds of garbage per person, per day—and diverted 77 percent through waste prevention, recycling and composting, according to a recent report from city staffers. The 2030 goal is 1.1 pounds of garbage per person, per day.

Some of the facilities needed to meet the goal, such an anaerobic digestion plant that would convert methane from decomposing food scraps into electricity, do not yet exist near Santa Monica.

In addition to mandatory recycling and composting, the plan—which would also affect businesses and construction and demolition crews—calls for the city to reduce how often it picks up trash. While blue recycling and green bins for food scraps would be picked up weekly, the traditional black cans would be collected every other week.

"It will be a lifestyle change, but it won't be all that difficult," said Hillary Gordon, who chairs the Sierra Club Los Angeles Chapter's Zero Waste Committee.

The club recently surveyed 23 cities in Los Angeles to see how they are dealing with food scraps and yard trimmings, known in waste parlance as "organics," and found only three—the city of Los Angeles, Burbank and Glendale—have zero waste plans.

Many cities, Santa Monica included, do already have sustainability or climate action plans, which cast a much broader net and encourage composting and recycling as only one in a number of ways to reduce a community's impact on the environment. Plans that hone in on zero waste specifically are "the most well thought out and the most ambitious," said Gordon.

Mandates like the ones proposed in Santa Monica are not in every zero waste plan, Gordon said. Some cities, such as Los Angeles, offer incentives instead.

Ninety percent of what is thrown in the trash "still has tremendous material" that can be re-used, recycled or converted, she said. 

"We want to get to the place where we do not have land fills ore incinerators," Gordon said. "To get there, we have to reduce how much waste is getting to those places. What we call trash is really full of valuable resources."

To view more details and the target rates of Santa Monica's Zero Waste Plan, click here.

How would you feel if the city made it mandatory for you to separate recyclables, trash and "organics?"

Tom hays March 23, 2013 at 06:21 PM
We already have the three types of containers in the alley behind our house. Some have our address on them. We do our best to follow the rules. The problem is that residents in the apartment building put anything anywhere in "our" containers as well as in several others for the apartment building. This plan will be a nightmare to administer (enforce).
Dan Charney March 23, 2013 at 08:52 PM
What a great thing to do - and we have many serious experts in this area about this- why let it all rot when we can create such rich soil for our parched earth -additionally grow our own organic food - wonderful idea- all for it
Dan Charney March 23, 2013 at 09:06 PM
Hard to lock them?
SK March 24, 2013 at 12:54 AM
Yes, what a great idea!!! one more way for SM govt officials to spend money, keep themselves employed, and harass residents. One minor detail that has been omitted from this great plan to yet again save us from ourselves: cost?????
Glenn E Grab March 24, 2013 at 05:24 PM
I can see it now....people planting plastic bottle and aluminum cans in their enemy's envitonmental trash cans...big fines from the city....another department....SM Trash Inspection Commission...
Glenn E Grab March 24, 2013 at 05:29 PM
easy to enforce.... closed circuit cameras everywhere....car alarms on trash cans.....drones flying overhead....plain clothed police sting operations on Third Street Promenade.... trash can surveillance volunteers making citizens arrests...
Craig McCoy March 24, 2013 at 08:36 PM
Tom is correct. This will be impossible to enforce. With so many condos in Santa Monica all kinds of people drive down the alleys and dump their garbage. How can you hold people accountable, when construction workers, businesses etc. are using the trash bins in the alleys.
Brenda Barnes March 25, 2013 at 12:30 AM
Mandatory is not necessary, desirable or feasible, in a City that cannot enforce development agreements with developers, a far smaller issue than checking on 90,000 people putting plastic bottles in cars to go to WLA to recycle rather than giving them--people's private property, after all--to the City. Paying people for recyclables and making it easy to recycle is all that is necessary, just as it is for having people use solar and wind and get to 40% practically overnight as in Germany. We'll see with solar-powered recycling cans on Main Street--technology is here to accomplish all green goals. I am shocked anyone in SM would want any more power of the City over us, the City that can't figure out how to make safe bike lanes or keep pedestrians from being killed at five times LA County's rate. This City is a corrupt pile of manure itself, sold out to developers long ago. They spent $6 million a year having green waste collected in alleys windrow composted in Lamont--the children's cancer capital of CA and 125 miles of exhaust fumes away--until I complained. Now they say they do it "locally," but still spend $6 million on it. If the City invested in its citizens instead of paying off developers for a kickback, we could put digesters underground with no noise or pollution on several of the spaces at Village Trailer Park the land speculator Luzzatto unlawfully vacated without permits, and get paid to do it with that $6 M, multiplied by being spent in our City.
Brenda Barnes March 25, 2013 at 01:38 AM
I also notice the woman presenting this plan is a consultant. We paid extra money for her to work, over and above our one City employee for every 35 residents, twice the rate of comparable cities. And all this high-paid consultant from outside the City could do was come up with a plan for moving from a not as effective voluntary program straight past all the alternatives other cities use effectively, to a mandatory draconian one. This kind of reaction to a perceived problem is the same way SM punished people for awhile for throwing household trash in public trash cans, until there was a global outcry against that. SM truly uses every excuse to raise revenue. This is because the Developers' Lapdog City Council does not know how to finance the City properly. They sell out one development after another for a $3-5 million kickback from each, and then they wonder why they don't have enough money to finance all the infrastructure and service improvements those developments require. If 2500 City employees can't figure better--without wasting even more money on consultants--we need to kick them all--with their too-expensive recycling bins--to the curb and start over.
Glenn E Grab March 25, 2013 at 03:34 PM
let me guess...... this Michelle Leonard, a "consultant", has a large profit motive in this proposed venture.....her statement regarding waste is complete BS...
Alicia Vance March 25, 2013 at 05:08 PM
thanks for your insight, very informative.
Glenn E Grab March 25, 2013 at 09:44 PM
this lady Hillary Gordon, from the Sierra Club, lives in a dream world...it's not her money she's spending...
Brenda Barnes March 25, 2013 at 10:47 PM
Great point, Glenn, but you don't have to guess, just do a google search and the first item is this: http://www.scsengineers.com/Pubs-News/Michelle_Leonard_Returns.html. Just like Tumlin, who already when he was hired had written books saying the way to "encourage" people to use bikes, walk, and use public transit, each consultant hired is already an "expert" in whatever it is the City wants to do. That's why they hire them, to try to get some cred above what they would have if a staff person suggested the plan. However, if our staff isn't expert-enough to do these plans, why do we have 2500 of them? One for each 35 of us. They could divide up the City into "classrooms" of people and each help 35 of us with every little problem of our life, better than spending our money hiring still more "experts" from outside like Tumlin and now Michelle Leonard from Pasadena.
Glenn E Grab March 26, 2013 at 12:52 AM
I manage my own solid waste, I flush the toilet.....I can see it now, "turd-o-meters" on every toilet in Santa Monica...the pay toilet is back...
VL March 28, 2013 at 11:42 PM
Agreed. A local business called City Earthworm is actually offering food waste pickup services to Santa Monica residents who don't have access to green bins. Seems like a pretty cool idea. http://www.cityearthworm.com
Glenn E Grab March 30, 2013 at 01:12 PM
vl. is this servie free?...if not, who cares?....

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