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Breaking Down San Diego's Proposed Zero Waste Initiative

November 7, 2013 1:14 p.m.


Rebecca Hays, Recycling Specialist, Environmental Services Dept.

Jack Macy, Spokesman, San Francisco Department of the Environment

Related Story: Breaking Down San Diego's Proposed Zero Waste Initiative


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition, I am Maureen Cavanaugh. Our top story today, the city of San Diego is considering a zero waste initiative. The goal would be to recycle compost and divert all of the waste that now goes into the Miramar landfill by the year 2040. Advocates say the landfill is running out of space. State law requires San Diego to step up its waste diversion policies. I would like to welcome Rebecca Hayes. The zero waste initiative sounds impossible to achieve, explain what that means.

REBECCA HAYS: Is not impossible to achieve, it's a way of thinking and a way of looking at your trash and reframing your perspective and considering more of it a treasure. Looking at discarded materials and thinking of them as resources rather than waste.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That is a different mindset, but how do you actually go about getting to that point? That goal of not putting any more waste into the landfill?

REBECCA HAYS: We have several programs that divert waste from the landfill. We are currently diverting 60%. With the state goal of 75% we're nearly there and with her with goals of 75% by 2020. We are working on moving towards developing a plan that will allow us to increase diversion and work with community stakeholders to develop that plan for San Diego.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: How would you go about phasing that goal in? Your looking at 2040 as the goal date where we would have no more waste entering the landfill. What would you be looking at as you phase these various policies and measures in so that we can begin to recycle more compost more and all of that?

REBECCA HAYS: There are few difference but strategies that we're looking at but as we develop a plan will have more specifics or, come back in 2014 and the plan is developed, that is when you will get more specifics your in general we're looking at resource recovery centers and expanding recycling and green waste collection and maybe changing the frequency of the collection and also further further develop the infrastructure of the food waste division and maximize effectiveness of our current ordinance.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So, what would that mean to the average San Diegan and their way of dealing with garbage? We currently put our garbage in at plastic bag and put it in a dumpster. What does this mean?

REBECCA HAYS: We hope that San Diegans are already thinking of garbage as a resource and not putting it in the trash but sorting it. We have about 23% participation going to recycling. But we like to do is use this program so that we're working towards to increase diversion.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: When we talk about moving to a zero waste policy, will that mean that people will have to learn how to compost? Will the city compost for us? How will that work?

REBECCA HAYS: There is a few ways that we have that we can deal with this. I now we have program that we can go to and sign up for a program to get a composting bin and this is a partnership. Often offset the cost of the then and you can take a free class on how to compost in your backyard. You can also there is 180,000 households that have the availability or routed to be. If you do not not know that you have that service you can type in your address and ZIP Code and see what services are available.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm wondering if we would not need some sort of change starting on how we buy things. How things are packaged. Will we be working on that so we know how things so there's less waste and packaging?

REBECCA HAYS: We're looking at a cradle-to-grave approach. When you're buying your product at you by the most environmentally friendly product and think about whether you can recycle it. Or if it's something that you can reuse or donate. Or is it something that has a short lifespan and may end up in the garbage. Making the decision a point-of-sale also helps with reaching zero waste.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What is the status of the Miramar landfill now? Is it nearly filled?

REBECCA HAYS: The Miramar landfill is expected to be full by 2022, but with these diversion efforts we should have more capacity.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What others are you in contact with ñ other cities in California were attempting to have zero waste policy ñ will you be in dialogue with other cities?

REBECCA HAYS: We have looked at other cities like San Jose and Berkeley and San Francisco to see what their practices are and see what is working for them. You have to keep in mind that San Diego is unique with its own environment and we need to apply what works best for San Diego.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Let me welcome my next guest, Jack Macey. Again this is a very ambitious goal. San Franscisco started the zero waste program, what you have seen so far?

JACK MACY: San Francisco has been recycling for a long time. One chief example is the state mandate of 50% diversion, we then wanted to go beyond that and for future sustainability we recognize that there is a lot of viable resources and materials that are being discarded and to move toward a sustainable city, we wanted to be up to move towards zero waste. We adopted the goal of 75% diversion by 2010. Zero waste by 2020.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Can you talk about valuable resources? Give us an example.

JACK MACY: When we were developing a policy, we ended up learning from data from the US government that for every time of material we're handling at the local level, that to replace that product that we're throwing away, requires generation of over 70 tons of waste in the prime product lifecycle. Mining of materials, production of materials etc. And so we're looking at a tremendous around of resources and and there's a lot of waste because in to making products and a lot of pollution made and we need to conserve these resources. It is a linear system of extracting reusing and throwing away. There's a strong climate connection as well to going towards zero waste. By doing this we create many more jobs than just landfilling and studies in the US showing average of ten times the number of jobs in recycling compared to landfill. There isn't many multiple environmental and economic and social benefits going towards with zero waste.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: To talk to you more about those jobs in a moment. To date I believe you have said that you have achieved an 80% diversion rate. What do you relate that success rate to?

JACK MACY: Creating easy-to-use programs. We have streams where we collect all the cycles in one stream and that is increasingly common in the US, and I think San Diego has that peer we keep increasing material that we can recycle, and then are compostable's which include food scraps. Everybody's food scraps along with their plant trimmings in any soiled or food splits paper that to me recycled. When we look at what we've been able to collect actually is 90% of the material that people are discarding.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Had you actually collect that food waste? Do people still put it in plastic bags? Where do they put it?

JACK MACY: We give residents a nice kitchen pail to kind of help to them to separate it, they can be many things. The ideas when you buy food your buying food separately and so when you're discarding food keep it separate. Having some kind of container in the kitchen people can use a composer will classic bag and meet the standards that are there. We do not want noncompostible plastic but we also can wrap it in paper and put it in the can. We do a cyclic separate collection of all of these combustibles in their delivered to regional synthesis and because they're so nutrient ranch, we're producing a really high-quality niche in which compost that hot farmers love. And we have hundreds of farms using this compost in the material that they grow to come back into the city. We have a lot of restaurants serving food grown in compost that they contribute to your. It started the cycle that we've created of organics in nutrients and is the only way to have a sustainable system is to return these nutrients back to the soil. We feed the soil healthy food and in return we eat healthy food.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: We've been talking in San Diego for a long time about creating green jobs, do you see this is one way San Diego can create new jobs and cite recycling by enacting this policy?

REBECCA HAYS: Definitely, and that is one of the benefits to having the splendid forward we can look out for we can we can look at how many create more jobs and invite manufacturers to come in and work towards zero waste. It can also be an example of a green job might be having more folks that can read make reusable bags. If we see something happening with our plastic bags or single use bags organist we may want more reusable bags out there, so that can be another way of implementing green jobs in the community. In addition to that, most more folks working at our composting facility in green waste recycling in general.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Jack, electric there's a learning curve that goes into a fermenting this policy and making it successful one of the challenges in getting people to become excited about this? Enough to actually follow the policy, and learn how to do it.

JACK MACY: We are creatures of habit and convenience. It is helping people see that there is differently to doing things that can be more beneficial for the community and environment and it really could be just as easy for the most part two change those habits. By making it easy by communicating, we used the images of the products that we want to put it there and their color-coded synchronous for composting, and blue for recycling, and black for that bad trash. We do lots of outreach and all types of outreach and social media and various forms. The competitions between neighborhoods and so will have shelters that say we composted so we can do better than those in the sunset. A lot of different ways to do that here I think that we're finding good programs and also providing good incentive silly have rate structure where people can see that when they are throwing less away, they save money. If they compost and recycle more they can save money, and that is been an important motivator especially in the commercial side. Also our service service providers incentivized to do what they can to help divert materials in the Leonard help. I want to build on one thing that Rebecca said, she mentioned extended produced responsibility is really important, and we need to help both consumers and producers to take more responsibility and see the impact of what they do. Some of the products that we are using are being used as long as possible and be used in recycled and composted and that fits in with things like plastic bag ban and I know that San Diego is looking at that as well as mandating participation and just hoping make this cultural change so that more people do it and it becomes the norm and that is the key.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: One more quick question what is next. City staff is going to look at this in one of the going to come back and say we have the beginnings of program?

REBECCA HAYS: We will take our zero waste is just is and in December and will be asking to be up to move forward and develop the plan, which will bring back in Spain in the 2014 and in the meantime will gather together are stakeholders and work with the community and develop a plan and I just want to in of size that this is a plan that is a one-shot deal. It's all hands on deck multifaceted and we have to pull in all of our partners and work together and have a synergistic effect on diverting materials.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Okay. I've been speaking with Rebecca Hayes and Jack Macey with the San Francisco Department of the Environment. Thank you very much.