WasteExpo 2015
Maximizing Waste Diversion in Santa Monica

Maximizing Waste Diversion in Santa Monica

With 92,000 residents in an eight-mile radius, Santa Monica, Calif., is a density-challenged tourist destination that diverts close to 80 percent of its waste from the landfill even with more than 6 million visitors a year.

At the helm of this multi-pronged integrated effort is Kim Braun, the city’s resource recovery and recycling manager since 2009, who oversees 126 employees in this California city where 70 percent of residences are multifamily buildings.

“Santa Monica is a full in-house operation. We collect all of the trash, recycling and organics for commercial, industrial and residential,” says Braun, 57, adding that the department is supported by an enterprise fund, not a general fund, meaning residents and businesses receive a bimonthly utility bill for trash, recycling and organics collection, street sweeping, bulky item collection and household hazardous waste curbside collection.

In 2014, the city’s “environmentally proactive council” approved a Zero Waste Strategic Operations Plan which outlines that a goal of 95 percent diversion by 2030, or a per capita disposal rate of 1.1 pounds per person per day, she says.

The city supports some creative efforts to promote the tenets of reduce, reuse and recycle. Last year, Braun says her department started what it calls a “repair café” where twice a year they invite handy volunteers to help residents fix everything from broken bikes and jewelry to computers and clothing. The city also launched a new My Waste app which helps residents connect with one another to swap and share items as well as opt out of catalog deliveries and junk mail.

Waste360 grabbed a few minutes with Braun who will speak at WasteExpo on her city’s integrated approach to recycling and waste reduction in this beach town, which banned Styrofoam take-out containers in 2008 and plastic bags in 2011. Braun will present her talk from 10:15 -11:45 a.m. Wednesday, June 3, as part of the session, "A Municipalities Integrated Approach to Recycling."

Waste360: What programs are going to help Santa Monica move the needle even closer to your ambitious zero waste goals?

Kim Braun: We have implemented several programs already and we’re going to go for more. As an example, our organics program allows our residents to put food, green waste and soiled paper products or any compostable paper products into their organics container. So our single-family households have three containers—for organics, recycling and trash.

One of the challenges for Santa Monica is that there really are strict space constraints and that has prevented us from starting an organics collection with multifamily residences.

One of our future goals of our zero waste strategic plan is to eventually move into what we deem a wet-dry collection service citywide. In this two-can model, there would be a wet container for organics and compostables and a dry container for recyclables.

Waste360: Super cool. When do you hope to roll out this new collection structure?

Kim Braun: Hopefully January 2017. I would like to pilot it for at least six months and I’ll take a volunteer area. This switchover includes not only being your internal trash hauler, we have to then reroute collections. It’s a lot of planning.

The behavioral change and the outreach and awareness for residents to really understand their material and where it goes will be a huge challenge in the next year or two. But our residents really want to do the right thing all the time.

Waste360: One of the guiding principles of the city’s Zero Waste Strategic Operations Plan is that the city leads by example. How do you plan to do that?

Kim Braun: On May 1 our City Hall went zero waste. We took away all the individual trash containers and set up waste stations throughout City Hall. Employees have blue recycling bins at their desks for paper and bottles but everything else that they generate at their office they have to get up and find a waste station to compost or recycle the material. We’re very excited about it. There was a little bit of push back but most of the employees accepted it and were excited to try it.

Waste360: What are some misconceptions about zero waste?

Kim Braun: One of the things that is rarely covered, and I am really going to hit on it at least a little bit in this session, is the funding. I go to a lot of workshops and the financial ends of developing and planning out long-term zero waste program isn’t something that is a big topic.

Sure, I can go to a zero waste plan and say this is all great and we really want to do it, but at what cost to the residents because they are the ones that are going to be paying for it.

In addition to creating our zero waste plan, we also created a rate structure that adjusts over the years with all the new programs that we are implementing. Just because we are taking away the black trash can doesn’t mean that (a resident’s) rate is going to go down.

One of the misconceptions, at least here, is that everyone thinks that their blue container and green container are free and they are just paying for the black trash can. That’s not really true. We try to make them understand that this is an integrated waste management fee. Organics processing is much more expensive than landfilling.

Waste360: Enough about work. Tell us what you like to do in your free time in that lovely location.

Kim Braun: I live in Marina del Ray with my husband. I have three adult children who are 18, 20 and 23. We like to hang out on the beach because we live on the beach and the marina. I like to do some wine tasting and spend weekends in Santa Barbara visiting some of my favorite wineries. And I like to take long walks on the beach with my little dog, Mama Mia.

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