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S.D. Residents, Business Owners React to Mandatory Recycling Proposal

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(Photo: The City of San Diego currently operates a voluntary curbside recycling program that  serves about 275,000 residents with every-other week collection service. Residents are provided with these blue recycling bins. Scott Horsley/KPBS. )

The City of San Diego rolled out its mandatory recycling proposal at a public hearing yesterday. The city council voted for a Mandatory Recycling Ordinance two years ago, and the mayor’s office has finally released a draft.  KPBS Reporter Alison St John has more on reactions from residents and businesses.

 Everybody is in favor of recycling at the city, not just because it’s good for the environment or even because it’s state law to recycle. The biggest incentive is because the city’s Miramar Landfill is projected to fill up in five years, and finding a new one will be major headache. City staff say well over half what’s dumped at Miramar  is recyclable -  so recycling is the city’s best bet to extend the looming deadline.

Angelica Villagrana from the Chamber of Commerce says the businesses she represents support the idea of mandatory recycling

Villagrana: However we do have a few concerns. Who is going to be held responsible if people don’t put the right recyclables into the right bins?

The city is talking about fines of $100 to $1,000 for people who don’t comply. But city staff say they plan to focus on education before they levy any penalties.  Unfortunately, the Environment Services Department has an education budget of only $200,000, which wont go far in a city of more than a million people. But apartment owners can go to the city’s web site to print out flyers to educate their tenants for example. If the tenants don’t recycle, they’re the ones who will get fined.

Environmental activist, Carolyn Chase says she noticed several lobbyists who were concerned about mandatory recycling at a public hearing two weeks ago. They didn’t  show up this week. Chase wonders if they got their problems solved at the mayor’s office and she points out the significant exemptions in the draft proposal.

Chase: And I mean everybody is in favor of this because the exemptions are big enough that you can drive a few thousand trash trucks through it.

Apartments that have less than four cubic yards of waste a week they wont have to recycle – four cubic yards is one large dumpster. And small business are also exempt. Since many of San Diego businesses are small, that could mean a lot of trash. 

Big  commercial facilities over 20,000 square feet will have to start recycling  next year if the plan goes into effect. Medium-size businesses will get a one or two year grace period.

Rebecca Davies of Pfeiser is working with her bosses to get recycling going. She explained to those in the hearing room that  haulers wont take small loads, and storing marketable recyclables like wood palettes and scrap metal takes a lot of space -- space employees are already fighting for.

Davies: We’re looking at our scientists, cramming them down into smaller and smaller spaces, as a business this is what we’re having to do and I’m asking for something half the size of this room for recycling --space is an issue.

Space is one of the reasons many small businesses have currently opted out of the city’s voluntary recycling program. They say they just can’t find a spot for the big recycling bins.  John Stump of city heights was indignant that small businesses under five thousand square feet are exempt.

Stump: Five thousand square feet -- that’s three or four times larger than the average residents house. You’re making me have a space for my blue can, but you don’t want a business have a blue can.

Stump says the city is dragging its feet on recycling because the city’s strapped general fund profits from the land fill trash tipping fees.

City staff on the other hand, say they could push ahead faster on recycling if single family homeowners paid for trash pick up. Under a special people’s charter they don’t have to. 

Councilwoman Donna Frye, who has been putting pressure on the mayor’s office to come up with a recycling ordinance fast, says she’s just glad to see a proposal

Frye: Well my initial impression is that I’m glad that finally something is getting done. We’re running out of time and we’re running out of landfill space.

The city of San Diego only barely meets the state law. It recycles 52 percent of its trash.n But those stakes could be raised soon. A bill making its way through the California state legislature proposes to lift the mandate from 50 to 75 percent.

Alison St John, KPBS news.

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