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San Diegans Urged To Recycle More

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Video published January 15, 2010 | Download MP4 | View transcript

Above: We'll look at San Diego's new recycling laws.

GLORIA PENNER (Host): On January 1st, the City of San Diego entered the final phase of its mandatory recycling program. KPBS Reporter Sharon Heilbrunn breaks down what the new policies mean and how they're being enforced.

SHARON HEILBRUNN (KPBS Reporter): Reduce, reuse and recycle. We all heard that phrase growing up, but how many of us actually recycle on a regular basis?

HEILBRUNN: If you live in the City of San Diego, it's mandatory to recycle all materials that the city identifies as recyclable, like cans, bottles, cardboard and newspapers. The city recently phased in the last part of an 2007 ordinance that requires recycling at apartments, condominiums and townhouse complexes in San Diego. Some businesses are also required to recycle. Stephen Grealy, deputy director of the waste reduction and disposable division for the City of San Diego, said policing is done through education, direct mail and code enforcement officers.

STEPHEN GREALY (City of San Diego, Environmental Services): "We have a report that comes out every year from the wasteholders, that shows which homes and businesses recycle and which ones don't, and the amount of recycling vs. trash collecting. So both of those have become triggers for site visits. The way it works is, code enforcers go out if the education doesn't work. The burden on the property owner to make sure the services are adequate and convenient, that they've got interior recycling, and recycling at dumpster area. They've also got to provide education and put up signage. Once they've done that, the property manager's job is done. Then the burden to recycle is put on the building resident, or the employee in the business.

HEILBRUNN: So far, the city hasn't fined anyone for violating the recycling ordinance.

GREALY: We've found that almost invariably, in the last 2 and a half years of implementing this ordinance, education works. We haven't had to fine anybody yet. But we do have the potential to fine up to $1000.

HEILBRUNN: The city spends about $16 million a year in recycling costs. Last year, it received about $6 million dollars back from the company that collects the city's recyclables.

GREALY: If you compare that against trash collection, it's still much more cost effective to do that than to the recycle, because once you put it in the black bin, it goes to a landfill and they pay a fee to dispose of it, and it's a long term liability in the landfill.

HEILBRUNN: The ordinance is part of an effort to reduce recyclables from entering the Miramar Landfill, which is expected to be full by 2019. Recycling helps extend the landfills capacity.

The state requires that at least 50 percent of waste is recycled, and San Diego residents exceed that by recycling about 64 percent of their waste a year. But as concerns over the environment increase, and landfills reach their capacity, Grealy expects that state legislature will raise that number to about 70 percent.

GREALY: So the city wants to be in a proactive position of being ready and anticipating these new requirements, whether they come from the waste board or from global warming concerns. The city of San Diego is very much in favor of being as environmentally friendly as it can be.

HEILBRUNN: It's easier than it used to be to recycle. No need to remove staples from papers or rinse bottles or cans, just make sure they're empty when you dispose of them. For more tips, go to We want to know what you think can be done to improve recycling in San Diego. Log onto and leave us a comment. For KPBS, I'm Sharon Heilbrunn.

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