California cities are facing an ultimatum: They must divert 50 percent of their waste from landfills by the year 2000, according to the California Integrated Waste Management Act of 1989. Santa Clarita targeted yard trimmings collection as one way to achieve this goal. Recently, it conducted a survey of cities in neighboring counties to evaluate how their costs and operational techniques compared.
The survey, which studied 94 cities in Los Angeles, Ventura, Santa Clara and San Diego counties, discovered that 45 cities already had residential yard trimmings programs. The collection methods ran the gamut: from fully-automated to manual to "bag and tag" and claw vehicle collection (see chart on page 12). Officials in the three cities that employ the bag and tag system, however, expressed concern about contamination because appropriate equipment is not available at the transfer station to separate the plastic bags from the recyclable materials.
Perhaps these cities should try the claw vehicle system employed by San Jose, where officials report only a one percent contamination rate. However, this city has a problem of its own: Residents still place a large quantity of trimmings in a separate container rather than on the street as is required.
Collection amounts varied, according to the survey. While all the cities with manual collection systems offer unlimited amounts, a few cities provide residents with an economic incentive to decrease trimmings generation. Seven of the cities limit each household to only one size yard trimmings container, but add a separate, extra yard trimmings collection.
Container sizes can range from 32 gallons to 100 gallons. Most of the cities reported matching the yard waste container size to that of the refuse container. Thirty-one cities that use manual collection require that citizens provide their own containers. Monthly refuse rates that include the yard trimmings program range from $6.45 to $22.39, depending on container size. A few cities re-ported applying a separate fee - averaging $2.72 - in addition to the monthly rate. This fee, called either the "AB 939 fee" or "yard trimmings fee," provides funding for the yard trimmings program. However, most of these programs are not subsidized, but are funded directly through the monthly refuse rates.
Since most cities merge the cost with the recycling fee or monthly refuse rates, the survey could not determine the actual costs. Monthly rates are billed to residents by adding the fee to the county property tax bill, water bill or trash bill.
Only six cities allowed exemptions to the program. Exemptions are granted if residents can prove that they use a landscape service, participate in home composting/ mulching or do not generate yard trimmings. Residents with landscape service must submit quarterly receipts indicating the yard waste amount and the disposal method. Two cities reported offering discounts for senior citizens, the disabled and low-income families. Exempted residences are au-dited periodically by code enforcement officials.
Cities reported that most problems occurred during the initial phase of the yard trimmings programs. During this time, contamination ran high, but public education and the issuing of fines low- ered these occurrences.
Finding a local composting facility to process the trimmings was another hurdle. Twenty-five cities in Los Angeles County transport trimmings to the landfill for alternate daily cover; while two other city programs market compost and mulch from trimmings as a commercial product to reduce operating costs, the survey said.
For more information, contact the City of Santa Clarita, Public Works Department, 25663 West Avenue Stanford, Santa Clarita, Calif. 91355-1103. (805) 294-2500. Fax: (805) 294-2517.