L.A.'s Collection Program Continues To Roll With The Times

Source separation was so un-popular in Los Angeles thirty years ago, that Sam Yorty won the mayor's office on a platform that eliminated it. Less than 20 years a-go, the city's waste management consisted of siting landfills in suitable canyons in the local mountains, and filling them with the city's waste.

Today, managing the municipal solid waste stream of the second largest city in the United States is perhaps its most impressive public works challenge. The city of Los Angeles produces a daily average of 15,000 tons, or seven pounds per person each working day. One-third of that amount, 5,000 tons, is collected by the city's Bureau of Sanitation (BOS) from 720,000 single-family and small multi-family residences, while the other two-thirds is construction and commercial wastes. The private sector manages the remaining portion of the waste stream.

Managing L.A.'s waste was not al-ways so difficult. Los Angeles residents used to burn their combustible waste until it was banned in 1957. The rest was separated into food waste, which was sold to nearby hog farmers; other wastes, such as tin cans and glass bottles were re-covered while the remaining materials were landfilled.

The city then turned to a waste management strategy based solely on disposal in nearby landfills. After World War II, urban sprawl quickly enveloped the undeveloped canyon areas; by the 1980s, city-owned landfills began closing while other landfills began raising prices and cutting operating hours. City officials spent the rest of the decade re-searching ways to solve its impending waste disposal crisis.

The city first considered constructing three incinerators (known as the LANCER project), but concern was raised over their potential health ef-fects. Instead, in 1988, Mayor Tom Bradley set a 50 percent waste re-duction goal. A year later, the Cali-fornia State Assembly passed the California Integrated Waste Man-agement Act (AB 939), directing all cities and counties to divert 25 percent of their waste stream from landfills by 1995, and 50 percent by the year 2000.

In 1990, after three years of planning, the city was ready to launch its ambitious waste management program. In addition to collection and disposal, the new system encourages waste reduction, then captures re-sources from the remaining waste stream.

In 1989, the city's Recycling Im-plementation Plan (RIP) listed four guiding principles: maximum feasible waste diversion, equal opportunity for all city-serviced households, program flexibility and compatibility with the existing infrastructure.

The Integrated Solid Waste Man-agement Office (ISWMO) was created to coordinate the private sector's re-cycling efforts and monitor progress toward AB 939 goals. The Recycling and Waste Reduction Division was created within the Bureau of Sani-tation to implement the city's curbside recycling program, encourage recycling and educate residents a-bout waste reduction.

Recycling System Choices First, Los Angeles established several curbside recycling pilot programs serving 90,000 households. The pilot programs used three different types of collection: dual-purpose (commingled recyclables and refuse in separate containers and truck compartments); commingled; and a three bucket source-separated system.

Following this experiment, the city chose a commingled system, be-cause it generated the highest participation rates during the pilot program. A 14-gallon yellow bin was se- lected for household recyclables; residents can request additional bins at no extra charge.

The city also purchased 187 new recycling trucks at a cost of $75,000 each. Bureau of Sanitation officials helped design the new trucks with automated side-loading hoppers that help prevent back problems. The re-cycling trucks have seven-year lifetimes, allowing a switch to full auto-mation in the near future.

The Bureau of Sanitation also created a 16,000-household automated collection pilot program in 1988, which showed that the automated trucks could service more than twice as many homes per day as the older manual trucks. Automated trucks require only one operator; the additional workers could be assigned to recycling vehicles.

The pilot's success convinced the city to convert from manual to automated collection. Simultaneously implementing the city's curbside re-cycling and automated collection program helps keep labor and equipment costs to a minimum, according to Marilyn McGuire, the Los Angeles refuse collection manager. Injuries and associated costs also are re-duced since automated collection is safer than manual collection, she noted.

To save money, the city retrofitted 217 of its 700 manual loading trucks at a cost of $30,000 each. They were added to 178 new automated trucks. Eventually, all older trucks will be phased out of operation.

By providing standard containers, the city could modify disposal hab-its. Since the average household used four 30-gallon trash cans per week, the Bureau proposed using 90-gallon containers. The city council, however, voted to use 60-gallon containers to encourage waste re-duction.

Residents can request extra ca-pacity for both refuse and yard trimmings at no extra charge; they are likely to be charged an extra capacity fee for refuse and yard trimmings when automated collection is implemented city-wide.

Because of the time saved with automated collection, trucks need to unload twice a day. Fortunately, three of the city's six collection districts were using transfer stations when automated collection was im-plemented, and another two are near landfills.

The Western refuse collection district, the last district to be automated and to implement recycling collection, is the only district still lack- ing a transfer station. The city plans to build a transfer station in the Western District.

The city has also solicited proposals to build material recovery facilities (MRFs) in or near each collection district. Only the Western Collection District lacks a materials recovery facility, but a new facility is expected to be operational by March. All contracts are routinely re-negotiated and/or re-bid to maintain competition and to avoid monopolies with one company.

The Bureau notifies the residents by mail two weeks before distributing the automated containers and recycling bins. Each household re-ceives one black, 60-gallon container for non-recyclable trash and one yellow, 14-gallon bin for household re-cyclable materials. Each lot receives one green, 60-gallon container for yard trimmings.

Recyclables collected include steel, tin and aluminum food and beverage containers; glass bottles and jars; plastic bottles coded 1 or 2; newspapers and inserts; magazines; corrugated cardboard; and brown paper bags. Yard trimmings include grass, leaves, twigs, branches, flowers and all other plant material. Recyclables, refuse and yard trimmings are collected by three different trucks on the same day.

Approximately 3,000 homes per week are being converted to the re-cycling and automated collection programs, which are being phased in one collection route at a time. Only the Western District has not fully converted to automated collection and recycling.

So far, 660,000 households are taking part in the recycling program; 622,000 are serviced by automated collection and 343,500 are participating in the automated yard trimmings program.

The city is gradually converting to separate yard trimmings collection. Residents in the first three automated collection districts were not told to separate yard trimmings from their trash; the green and black containers were picked up by the same truck and landfilled. Yard trimmings have been collected separately from the outset in the last three districts to automate their collections

The city went through an extensive process for buying automated containers. It conducted performance tests, required a 10-year warranty and demanded recycled content (currently 20 percent in the au- tomated containers and 50 percent in the recycling bins). The various containers and wide variety of trucks also needed to be compatible. Competitive bidding is required with limited contract duration.

The city currently has 360 automated trucks including new Heil and Amrep bodies. Some Amrep bodies were used to convert manual trucks; the conversions were performed by Sunbelt. The city purchased 187 re-cycling trucks using Wayne bodies and Volvo-White chassis.

The city has purchased (or will purchase) more than 1,000,000 automated containers from several manufacturers including Plastopan (400,000+), Otto (460,000), Zarn (480,000), Schaefer (160,000), and Toter (3,000 90-gallon). Recycling bins are supplied by Rehrig Pacific (500,000+) and UPM/A1 (200,000).

Since it comprises 20 to 25 percent of the city's residential waste stream, yard waste must be diverted to meet the state's goals. Yard trimmings presently account for 50 percent of all materials that are recycled by the Bureau.

Los Angeles was the first major municipality to develop a program for year-round collection and processing of yard trimmings. When the city first started its recycling program, there was essentially no market for yard trimmings. "We had to develop our own market," said Brent Lorscheider, project manager for the Recycling and Waste Reduction Division. Yard trimmings are taken to three transfer and processing lo-cations, where they are prepared for shipment to four composting sites outside the city.

As much as 25 percent of the yard trimmings are hauled to California's San Joaquin Valley, where they are combined with biosolids from the city's Hyperion Wastewater Treat-ment plant and composted using an aerated windrow process. The compost is sold to farmers in the area and to city residents under the name TOPGRO.

"We are taking L.A.'s waste, recycling it, and selling it back to residents in a useful form," said J.P. Ell-man, president of the city's board of public works. "Part of those wastes is biosolids that used to be dumped into the Santa Monica Bay," Ellman added.

Residents also are encouraged to compost their yard trimmings at home or leave grass clippings on the lawn. The Bureau provides a recycling hotline, informative brochures and free monthly composting workshops.

"We use this type of community-based public education to change people's behaviors and reduce waste at the source," said David Mays, Bu-reau composting workshop coordinator and TOPGRO specialist. "In the [largely affluent] Western Dis-trict, the number one concern has been the need for extra yard trimmings capacity," he added. "While extra containers are an option, we'd like to see residents doing their own composting."

Household Hazwastes Residents can recycle or dispose household chemicals through the Bureau's household hazardous wastes program. The city has tried home collection, roundups and mo-bile drop-off sites. Mobile drop-off sites with a centralized management and handling facility appear to be the best approach and are currently being pursued.

After making an appointment for collection, residents bring hazardous wastes (such as used motor oil, paint and batteries) to the city's Haz-Mobile. The facility includes an office trailer for manifesting and record-keeping, a utility trailer for storing supplies, unloading stations and a waste sorting area.

In 1994, the HazMobile operated at 20 different sites for two-week periods. More than 10,000 residents recycled approximately 14,000 gallons of motor oil; 2,000 gallons of antifreeze; 13,000 gallons of paint; and 1,000 car batteries. In addition, 4,000 drums of miscellaneous hazardous wastes were collected. Nearly 1 million pounds of hazwastes were handled in nine months, according to Jackie David, public information director for household hazardous wastes collection.

The city has begun a recycling program to reduce the estimated 8 million gallons of used motor oil that is improperly disposed each year. Funded by a $1.1 million State of California Integrated Waste Manage-ment Board Block Grant, the city of Los Angeles, American Oceans Cam-paign and Unocal are conducting the first city-wide used motor oil recycling program. Residents may bring up to 20 gallons of uncontaminated used motor oil per day to one of 42 state-certified Unocal stations for a 4 cents per quart rebate.

Evergreen Environmental Services collects the oil and re-refines it into new lubrication products.

The state grant funds the program's administrative costs and a public education campaign, including radio and television announcements, newspaper and billboard ad-vertisements, banners lining major city streets, brochures and educational and promotional material. Los Angeles residents can call the city's Household Hazardous Waste Hotline for information about oil recycling centers and other household hazardous waste disposal information.

Recyclables Markets Household recyclables collected by the Bureau are sorted at privately-owned processing plants or city-owned MRFs.

About 80 to 90 percent of the city-collected newspapers and corrugated cardboard are sold overseas, mostly to Southeast Asian countries. How-ever, new West coast mills will likely increase domestic paper recycling. Glass and aluminum are bought by local reprocessors and remanufacturers. The plastics are processed in California through the Plastic Re-cycling Corporation of California (PRCC), a consortium of plastic manufacturers.

Because residents generate large volumes of recyclables, the Bureau only collects materials with large, stable markets. Because it uses co-mingled collection, the program is flexible enough to add new materials as markets develop.

The Integrated Solid Waste Man-agement Office is responsible for de-veloping markets for city-collected and other city-generated recyclables. Through its Recycled Products Pur-chasing Program, the Integrated Solid Waste Management Office re-quires city departments to include recycled materials in their product and procurement specifications, un-less performance standards would not be satisfied. The city's purchasing agent also must buy products with recycled content if they are able to meet performance standards and cost the same as comparable products.

A significant challenge for the Bur-eau's Recycling and Waste Reduc-tion Division has been encouraging recycling in the city's culturally, eth- nically and economically diverse constituency. Residents are spread out over 450 miles and speak more than 60 languages. The Bureau uses a multifaceted, grassroots approach, employing a non- profit youth training organization and public relations firms that specialize in communicating with different ethnic communities.

The public education team informs residents about curbside recycling and automated collection as the programs come to their neighborhoods. Residents can ask questions, which lends a human element to the programs, reports Gyl Elliott, the Re-cycling and Waste Reduction Di-vision's public information director.

The public education team promotes its programs in a variety of ways, including speakers at community and homeowner organizations; information booths at community e-vents; a school curriculum for 2nd, 5th and 8th grade students; and stories in community newspapers and organization newsletters. The Bur-eau also has a five-language toll-free recycling hotline and various bro-chures and fact sheets on its different programs.

The public outreach program helps employ 150 young adults by contracting with the Los Angeles Conservation Corps (LACC), a non-profit youth training organization that performs environmental im-provement and community service operations. For example,10 LACC members go door-to-door to explain the new curbside recycling program and describe how to separate waste using the new receptacles.

Program Costs Financing the program through bond sales, the city has successfully implemented its curbside recycling and automated collection programs despite deep budget cuts and a persistent regional recession. While re-cycling still costs more than landfilling in the Los Angeles area, this should change as recyclables markets expand and landfill costs rise.

The city receives an average of $11 per ton for household recyclables. By contrast, the collection costs are $128 per ton, or $1.26 per customer per month. This compares to $74 per ton, or $3.90 per customer per month for yard trimmings. These costs are decreasing each month, as the program expands to new residents and tonnages increase.

Approximately 37,000 tons of household recyclables and 30,000 tons of yard trimmings were recycled and composted during the first half of 1994. This amounts to a 10 percent city-wide diversion rate, including households that don't have separate yard trimmings collection and/ or curbside recycling. The estimated city-wide figures for the second half of 1994 are 42,000 tons of recyclables, 54,000 tons of yard trimmings and a 15 percent diversion rate.

The city expects a dramatic in-crease in the diversion rate when all yard wastes are collected separately, since areas with yard trimmings collection have much higher-than-average diversion rates. Currently, the Northwest portion has the highest diversion rate, about 40 percent.

Los Angeles has an official waste diversion goal of 32 percent by 1995 and 62 percent by 2000. The city ex-pects to reach its 1995 goals, and is on track toward its 2000 goals. A successful yard trimmings program is going to be the key, said Bureau Director Del Biagi.

Waste reduction and saving landfill space are the ultimate goals for the city. While 18 landfills served the 88 cities and unincorporated areas of Greater Los Angeles ten years ago, today, only eight serve that same re-gion. Currently, 70 percent of L.A.'s waste is landfilled at its Lopez Can-yon facility, whose operating permit ends in 1996.

The city could contract with any of the area's private landfills, but the tipping fees could be appreciably higher. The Sunshine Canyon landfill in Sylmar, which is owned by Browning-Ferris Industries (BFI) is re-opening. An environmental im-pact report is due soon for BKK's proposed 190 million-ton landfill in Elsmere Canyon, near Santa Clarita. Meanwhile, Laidlaw's Chiquita Can-yon Landfill near Castaic has at least 60 years left.

Meanwhile, private companies have developed three separate rail-haul schemes to export trash from Los Angeles County and other area cities to sites as near as Riverside County, about 60 miles east, and as far as Utah, which is approximately 800 miles away. The proposals are in various stages of environmental or economic research, and Bureau officials have embraced none of them. Mike Miller, the Bureau's assistant director said that the city's shrinking landfill capacity makes it likely it will eventually ship much of its trash by rail.

Los Angeles County sanitation officials have been receptive to rail-haul proposals. "From Los Angeles Coun-ty's point of view, we are in a critical position," said Steve Maguin, the Sanitation District's director of solid-waste management. "Any capacity we can obtain we will pursue in or out of the county," said Maguin

Hauling garbage to remote dumps by rail costs up to three times more than dumping waste into local landfills, according to county estimates. While such efforts may be necessary, the Bureau has made other plans for streamlining and improving residential diversion rates, including: ex-panding automation and other new technologies to the curbside recycling program (such as weighing technologies, on-board computers, mechanical sorting or plastic shredding); incorporating new materials such as mixed paper, additional plastics and phone books to the program as the markets solidify; and for example, by encouraging behavioral changes in purchasing practices and home composting.

By August 1995, the Bureau of Sanitation will have rolled out curbside recycling and automated collection to all 720,000 city-serviced Los Angeles residents, bringing to a close a revolutionary chapter in Los An-geles waste management history.

The Bureau of Sanitation has streamlined and renovated its integrated waste management system, automated refuse and yard trimming collections and implemented a convenient and simple curbside recycling program.

Armed with state-mandated waste diversion goals, supported by L.A. residents and promoting the motto, "let's cut the garbage," the Bureau is preparing to create a new chapter in its history: where residents take re-sponsibility for reducing, as well as recycling, their waste - a new pre-cycling mentality.