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Clearing Unintended Waste From San Diego’s Only Landfill

Evening Edition

The average person throws away 4.5 pounds of trash every day. That adds up to more than 1,400 pounds per person a year. In the city of San Diego most of the trash ends up in the Miramar Landfill.

With a city population of more than one million, San Diego generates a whole lot of trash. In fact 910,000 tons of food, paper, plastic and other waste end up at the Miramar Landfill every year. And the dance of trucks and tractors dumping and compressing trash happens seven days a week. At this pace the city's only landfill will likely reach capacity in less than 10 years.

That's why Renee Robertson, recycling specialist for the city said they're doing another study to see what's being recycled and what's being thrown away to extend the landfills life. She said we're doing pretty good with a 65 percent recycle rate, but we're still 10 percent short of the goal.

"The state just adopted a goal to get everybody statewide to 75 percent. We're doing really well, but there are things that we can do better when you look at the trash, there's clearly recyclables making it to the landfill," Robertson said.

The last study 12 years ago showed lots of construction material was getting into the Miramar landfill. "That was just from the construction boom. Over 500,000 tons of that was coming in last time we did the study. So now we have a diversion program and expect to see that a lot lower," Robertson said.

Crews isolate 200-pound samples from trucks and separate them into 90 different types of waste to see whose doing what with their trash -- from military bases and businesses to apartments and homeowners.

"We're looking at the low hanging fruit, that's the biggest most cost effective way to divert materials from the landfill. Is to look at what's still going there, the biggest piece, and then cut that piece out of the pie and divert it to a recycling market.

The results of the study will be used to improve the city's recycling programs and outreach efforts.

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