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New Recycling Laws Take Effect

New Recycling Laws Take Effect
It is now mandatory for everyone in the City of San Diego to recycle. We speak to an official from the Environmental Services Department about the impact recycling has on the Miramar Landfill and how the new policies will be enforced.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days on KPBS. San Diego's phased-in mandatory recycling program is now fully phased-in. That means apartments and townhouses join the list of residences and businesses which must collect cans, bottles, newspapers and other items in bins for recycled waste pickup. The immediate aim of the ordinance, which has increased areas of mandatory recycling since 2007, is to extend the life of San Diego's bulging landfill. Joining us now to talk about mandatory recycling in San Diego is my guest, Stephen Grealy, deputy director of the Waste Reduction and Disposal Division for the City of San Diego's Environmental Services Department. And, Stephen, welcome to These Days.

STEPHEN GREALY (Deputy Director, Waste Reduction and Disposal Division, San Diego Environmental Services Department): Thank you, Maureen.

CAVANAUGH: And we invite our listeners to join the conversation. If you have questions about the requirements for curbside recycling in San Diego, give us a call, 1-888-895-5727, that’s 1-888-895-KPBS. So now it’s mandatory for everyone in the city of San Diego to recycle. Tell us a little bit about when this ordinance started and how it’s been phased in.


GREALY: Yeah, it started in 2007. That’s when it was signed into law by the mayor and council, at the end of 2007. And the phasing, we did it based on the size of the facility so it started out all single family residence. If you have a blue can from the city or you have a waste collection, you’re like a private community and you have waste collection from a private hauler, everyone had to start recycling in 2008 right away with those programs. If you’re a multi-family complex resident then if you had a 100 units or more in that first year, then you had to have a recycling program, and if you were a business, if you were larger than 20,000 square feet. That was in the first year in 2008. In 2009, that dropped down to all multi-family units or greater than 50 units in the complex and all businesses that were larger than 10,000 square feet. And just beginning January of this year, it’s all businesses, all multi-family complexes and all single family residence. There is an exemption if you generate less than six cubic yards of trash in recycling a week. So that sort of takes the heat off the places where there really is tight space constraints.

CAVANAUGH: I’m interested. Why did the city decide to do it in that way, in that phased-in kind of a way?

GREALY: Well, the ordinance was crafted with a lot of input from the stakeholders and the – it tends to be easier when you have the large complex because they have more space. And so it was input from the apartments, San Diego County Apartment Association, from the Chamber of Commerce, from all of the different stakeholders, that they preferred we do it that way. And when you start at the larger complexes as well, and the larger businesses, you almost always save money by implementing recycling, so it was a gentle introduction to the ordinance.

CAVANAUGH: I’m wondering, what kind of phone calls do you receive about people having trouble complying with the recycling ordinance. Is it about space?

GREALY: That’s typically what people think when they – They say, look, we don’t have the space. But we do provide – The whole focus of this ordinance is education and outreach first, and technical assistance. So we will definitely send people out into the field and so far we haven’t found a single situation where we weren’t able to help them figure out a way to access recycling at their complex. It’s…


CAVANAUGH: That’s fascinating. So, basically, they just – they’re just not managing the space they have in a good way.

GREALY: Well, they’re not aware necessarily of all the different types of container sizes out there and how you can modulate the frequency of collection. So if you have one dumpster, one large dumpster or two dumpsters, for example, which most places do that are in this large size, it’s – you just switch out one dumpster, put in a recycling one. You increase the collection frequency of the trash one. So it’s a way to adjust the situation so that it works. But also, you’re right, there are carts that we use in single family that are also accessible to multi-family and businesses.

CAVANAUGH: It’s interesting. I’m speaking with Stephen Grealy and we’re talking about the fact that recycling is now mandatory for everyone in the city of San Diego, with a few exceptions that he just mentioned. Stephen Grealy is deputy director of the Waste Reduction and Disposal Division for the City of San Diego's Environmental Services Department. And we are taking your calls if you have questions about recycling in San Diego, 1-888-895-5727. Christine is calling us now from La Jolla, and good morning, Christine. Welcome to These Days.

CHRISTINE (Caller, La Jolla): Good morning. Thank you. I just wanted to share one discouraging thing that I hope is a rumor that despite the fact if you send your things to be recycled, if the recycling factory can’t make money on it, the commodity price is too low, they just send the recyclables right back to the dump. Is that correct?

GREALY: No, that’s not correct. If you follow the guidelines of the types of recyclables we accept in our program, they all get recycled. There is – We do not send anything to the dump that’s listed on that list of things that we accept in our program.

CAVANAUGH: But sometimes you do lose money on it, is that correct?

GREALY: Yes. The only commodity where we do lose some money is in the – when the glass gets there, sometimes it all gets – some of it gets broken, and so the broken glass, it does get marketed and sold into a market but the overall cost ends up being a negative on that.

CAVANAUGH: I’m wondering, how do you – since the requirement is mandatory now and affects most residential units in San Diego, and businesses, how do you police something like this?

GREALY: Well, we – it’s – We do get, from the waste haulers – Part of the ordinance was a requirement that they provide us a list of all their customers and the volume of service they provide in trash and recycling. So every year we get that. And in the – We’ve had our second report come in and we’ve seen the amount of recycling actually double in the city of San Diego in that first year. So we’re very encouraged by that. But also we get complaints. You know, people that call in say, hey, I’m of that size and I don’t have recycling so we’ll contact the building owner or the manager and arrange to have a meeting so we can go out and help them set up recycling. We have code enforcement officers and there are potential fines if we needed to assess them, which we haven’t yet to date, and we have the technical assistance we do, as well.

CAVANAUGH: And, potentially, what kind of fines are we talking about?

GREALY: It can start at $100 and go up to $1000. We use the same schedule of fines, if you will, that we have for other waste code violations.

CAVANAUGH: Now San Diego’s recycling rate is really pretty good. How is San Diego doing?

GREALY: Okay, we’re at 64% and the state mandate is 50% at this point, so we are well above the state mandate. However, each year in the past few years, legislation has been introduced to raise that level to 70% so – and we understand that there’s still a lot of energy around the state for that type of legislation to be passed. So we want to be ready for that and not have to suddenly find 20% extra diversion.

CAVANAUGH: Is there an easy way to answer how they actually come up with a recycling rate?

GREALY: They actually simplified it quite a bit a couple of years ago. Now, every landfill reports the amount of tonnage and where it’s coming from to the state and so the state tells us how much – what our diversion rate is because it’s based on the dropping waste going into the landfill.

CAVANAUGH: We are taking your calls about recycling in the city of San Diego. The number is 1-888-895-5727, and Mark is calling us from North Park. Good morning, Mark. Welcome to These Days.

MARK (Caller, North Park): Good morning. I was wondering how much the whole program costs and who pays for it.

CAVANAUGH: Thank you for the question, Mark.

GREALY: The program costs $9 million. Last – This year, we expect to bring in about $4.2 million in revenue, so it’s a net of about $5 million a year. And the way the program is funded is off fees that are assessed on trash collected in the city of San Diego by the private haulers or by the city collection forces as well.

CAVANAUGH: I see. And so San Diego right now is at 64% in its recycling rate. How actually has that affected the Miramar Landfill?

GREALY: Well, there’s three things that have affected the current tonnage at Miramar Landfill…


GREALY: …since a high of about four years ago we’ve dropped down from about 1.5 million tons down to just around 900,000 tons. And from what we can assess, a third of it’s due to this ordinance, a third of it’s due to the economy, and a third of it’s due to a companion ordinance passed in 2007 for construction and demolition operations.

CAVANAUGH: I see. I see what you’re saying. So the economy, how is the economy affecting what goes into the landfill? People are buying less?

GREALY: Exactly. They buy less. There’s – A large part of what goes into the landfill is packaging from goods and so people are consuming less.

CAVANAUGH: That’s interesting. Has it – has all of this increased the lifespan of the Miramar Landfill?

GREALY: Yes, it has. We anticipate now that it won’t close until at least 2019, so we…


GREALY: …have another four years out of – from where we were projecting just a few years ago.

CAVANAUGH: We’re really just sort of chasing the tail end of it, though, aren’t we?

GREALY: We are.

CAVANAUGH: Let’s get another call. We’re taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727, and Dorothy is calling us from South Park. Good morning, Dorothy. Welcome to These Days.

DOROTHY (Caller, South Park): Good morning. Well, this is something that’s been bothering me for a long time. The garbage trucks and the recycling trucks are in such a hurry to go down my street half the time—it’s a one way street—they pass up the stuff then you have to call them back and then they just mix everything up.

CAVANAUGH: They mix the recycles with the regular garbage?


CAVANAUGH: Oh. You’ve seen them do that?

DOROTHY: Oh, a lot of times.

CAVANAUGH: Okay, well, thank you, Dorothy, for that phone call. Have you heard of that?

GREALY: I – No. I haven’t…

CAVANAUGH: You haven’t.

GREALY: …heard of them mixing it up. We usually get that part of it right. But if you call 858-694-7000, that’s our – that will get immediately to a supervisor and we’ll be able to look into the situation. If you can leave your name and address, Dorothy, with that – at that phone number, we’ll look into it for you.

CAVANAUGH: So the city of San Diego is now hovering around 64% in recycling its waste, its refuse. And the state is maybe going to 70%. Are we looking at perhaps an interim goal before we get to 70%?

GREALY: Now we’ve got this final phase of the ordinance kicking in.

CAVANAUGH: Right, right.

GREALY: We anticipate this is really going to help move our recycling rate even higher, so we don’t have the numbers yet for 2009 and 2010 is the year where it will be in full effect. So we may, who knows, we may get to 70% with the measures we have in place. However, in the ordinance, if we don’t get there with the measures we have, that six cubic yard exemption I talked about earlier can be adjusted at the discretion of the mayor. If we need to meet a mandate, we don’t need to pass a new law, we could lower that down or eliminate that exemption as well if needed be. But at the moment we’re not seeing a need to address that.

CAVANAUGH: Let’s take another call. Sherilyn is calling from Poway. Good morning Sherilyn. Welcome to These Days.

CAROLYN (Caller, Poway): Hi, yeah, it’s actually Carolyn.

CAVANAUGH: Oh, I’m sorry, Carolyn.

CAROLYN: No, that’s okay. I was on speaker when I called.


CAROLYN: So not her fault. I love recycling and I would like to recycle everything that’s recyclable and I’m wondering what the timeline is for San Diego to begin including the ability to recycle everything that’s recyclable.

CAVANAUGH: Well, thank you for that, Carolyn.

GREALY: Yeah, the constant battle we have is in the city of San Diego, we have what’s called the People’s Ordinance so we’re not able to charge a direct fee for providing this service, the trash or recycling. So what we ended up – we end up doing is trying to economize, going for those materials that generate a lot of waste that are a big part of the waste stream but do have some value. And the number one concern people have is plastic bags and also the tubs, the plastic tubs. We don’t take them at the moment. We constantly are looking at the markets and we’re constantly reevaluating the program so I can’t give you a firm date but it is on our radar screen to, at some point, add those materials into the program, especially the tubs, like the margarine tubs and the yogurt tubs and things like that.

CAVANAUGH: I’m speaking with Stephen Grealy. He is deputy director of the Waste Reduction and Disposal Division for the City of San Diego's Environmental Services Department. We’re talking about the fact that mandatory recycling is now mandatory for just about everyone in the city of San Diego. And we’re taking your calls for questions and comments at 1-888-895-5727. Now, Governor Schwarzenegger recently put into effect – passed a bill that will put money toward convenient recycling centers at shopping malls, grocery stores, where consumers can bring their recyclables and get back cash. How badly was this service in trouble?

GREALY: Well, first of all, they took it away then it was badly in trouble…

CAVANAUGH: Yes, yes.

GREALY: …so now they’ve been looking to add it back. We had about four or five recycling centers that I’m aware of that were closing, closed or on the edge of closing in San Diego.

CAVANAUGH: They kept siphoning money off from these particular recycling centers and putting it into other funds in the state, is that correct?

GREALY: Exactly, yes. They were taking the handling fee, which is what really made a lot of these convenient recycling centers around the city and throughout California work. And with that going away, a lot of the smaller centers were getting ready to close up shop. So it hasn’t been approved yet but I understand that is the proposal from the governor is to add that money back in.

CAVANAUGH: And so this helps, overall, the – California, not specifically the city of San Diego, is that correct?

GREALY: Yes, that is correct.

CAVANAUGH: Let’s take another call. Jong is calling from Ocean Beach. Good morning, Jong, welcome to These Days.

JONG (Caller, Ocean Beach): Good morning. Thanks for taking my call.

CAVANAUGH: You’re welcome.

JONG: I own a restaurant in Ocean Beach area and on our property we have a dumpster for trash and one for cardboard only, so we have no way of recycling cans and plastic, and we get a tremendous amount of waste in that direction because we’re a restaurant. Everything seems to come in these big No. 10 cans, and olive oils and what not come in plastic. And right now I have them bag it up and haul it over to Robb Field where they have – it’s like athletic fields. They have a couple of large dumpsters that takes all those things specified on the front of the box and I put it in there. But I called the City about four months ago asking for some sort of commercial recycling and they said they didn’t have anything for commercial businesses at that time. So if this is mandatory now, is there someone I can call or refer my landlord to so he’s forced to or actually provide something like that for me so it’s easier for me to recycle?

GREALY: Yeah, the – If you have a cardboard bin, there’s – you can put all your recycle – you talk to your waste hauler or have your landlord talk to your waste hauler but there are several facilities in San Diego now that can take commingled recyclables so if you’ve got space for a cardboard bin, you should be able to put all of your recyclables into that one dumpster but do go ahead and talk to your hauler ahead of time or have your landlord do that ‘cause there may be a price adjustment because they have to pay for the separation at the other end but it should be minimal.

CAVANAUGH: Now, he said that he called the recycling department and was told that that was not available for him. Is it now available?

GREALY: No, that’s true. We are not expanding our services that we provide. Jong would be having commercial recycling provided by the private haulers. We have a list on our website. They are required in this ordinance as well. We have a requirement on the franchised haulers to provide the recycling or to refer their customers to a recycling provider to make sure that those service (sic) is provided.

CAVANAUGH: Let’s take another call. John is calling us from National City. Good morning, John, and welcome to These Days.

JOHN (Caller, National City): Good morning. I do building maintenance and I notice a lot of people put all kinds of stuff in those blue containers like – I mean, they actually look like – look at it like it’s a secondhand recycling, where they put clothes, batteries, fluorescent bulbs, stuff like that. What becomes of that stuff?

CAVANAUGH: That’s a great question because I’ve seen that happen, too. People just really seem not to be clear as to what goes into those blue bins and what doesn’t. So what happens when people get it wrong?

GREALY: Well, those materials are pulled out and that does become trash because they – we only accept the materials that we established the guidelines in the program for, which is all paper, all cans, metal or aluminum, plastic and glass bottles and jars. So we try to keep it as simple as we can.

CAVANAUGH: You know what I’ve seen people do, and that is they’ll fill up sort of like a Hefty bag fill – full of recyclables, and then they’ll put the Hefty bag in the recycling bin as well. They shouldn’t do that, huh?

GREALY: That’s correct. I mean, that – they will tear apart the bag on the line and get to the recyclables but that really – that’s extra work and it can slow down the productivity, so we really do encourage people to not put them in bags. Put them loose in the blue containers.

CAVANAUGH: Let’s take another call. Sandra is calling us from San Diego. Good morning, Sandra. Welcome to These Days.

SANDRA (Caller, San Diego): Good morning. Thank you for taking my call. First of all, I think everyone should recycle and it should be mandatory nationwide. But there’s something that has always bothered me. I take my kids, for example, to Rubio’s or McDonald’s and I’d like to – I never see any recycling containers and yet a lot of the items sold there come in plastic containers. And I’d like to know if it’s mandatory for businesses to recycle.

CAVANAUGH: Thank you for that.

GREALY: Yeah, that’s a good question. Yes, it is mandatory. And a lot of times the customers don’t see the recycling that’s happening behind the scenes. They will separate out themselves behind the scenes. We do encourage businesses like the ones you mentioned to actually put recycling receptacles out so the public can see it as well because otherwise you do get people that are confused and wondering if it’s actually happening.

CAVANAUGH: Another call now, Susan is calling from Julian. Good morning, Susan, and welcome to These Days.

SUSAN (Caller, Julian): Good morning. I had a question about rural recycling. We live in Julian and we have a dumpster provided by the Ramona recycling company, I’m not sure quite what it’s called. But I know that a lot of the businesses especially up in Julian and other rural areas do not follow recycling standards, and I’m wondering what can be done about this.

CAVANAUGH: Well, thank you for that, Susan.

GREALY: Yeah, the City of San Diego is the only jurisdiction in the county that actually has an ordinance like this. So at the – the County did pass a mandatory ordinance back in 1991 but it was based on checking loads going into the landfill and that has long since not been enforced, that ordinance, to my understanding.

CAVANAUGH: And who actually uses the Miramar Landfill? More than just the city of San Diego?

GREALY: Yes, anybody can use the Miramar Landfill.

CAVANAUGH: Other – other cities in the county and so forth?

GREALY: Yes, there are some, yeah.


GREALY: It’s – We get – About 60 to 70% of what comes into the Miramar Landfill is from the city of San Diego.

CAVANAUGH: I see. Tom is calling us from La Mesa. Good morning, Tom, and welcome to These Days.

TOM (Caller, La Mesa): Good morning. Tom Fox. I’m the senior property manager for Kaiser Permanente in San Diego and the Coachella Valley. I have some wonderful and exciting news to share with you. Kaiser, throughout our whole countrywide system, converted to electronic medical records. And in San Diego, formerly our medical records were housed in a 50,00 square foot warehouse ten feet high…


TOM: 498,000 paper medical records. It’s empty. It’s absolutely empty. All gone. Just – It’s just the most stunning sight to see. All that paper, of course, was recycled. And now we no longer purchase paper when we have entries to make into our medical records. I’m looking so forward to reporting this to the City of San Diego’s Recycler of the Year program. It’s – In my 40 years of being in facilities management, this is one of the biggest things I’ve ever seen.

CAVANAUGH: Well, Tom, thank you so much for that and congratulations.

TOM: It – It’s just remarkable.

GREALY: Yeah, thank you, Tom. I appreciate that lead in. We do have a Recycler of the Year program that we operate and if any businesses out there are interested in applying for this award, you can either go to our website, or you can call 858-694-7000 to get information on that. And we are accepting entries as we speak and the deadline is coming up soon, so if you’re interested give us a call.

CAVANAUGH: That’s wonderful. You know, every time we do a show about recycling, we get a lot of people who call in. People are very interested in recycling more and learning more about this. But I wonder if – what is the biggest challenge that you still face in getting residents to recycle?

GREALY: Convenience is the thing that really makes it work. And as that person was talking about at Rubio’s and McDonald’s, that they don’t have an opportunity to recycle there and as the – Jong was talking about at the restaurant and having to pack it up and take it somewhere, that really discourages recycling. So as this ordinance takes effect and more and more businesses do provide recycling and make it convenient for their customers as well as their employees, we’ll start to see a big jump at that point I think. We’ll also – public space recycling is something that’s lacking in San Diego and basically it’s because we don’t have the funding to go out and buy a lot of containers. But we are trying to gradually expand that program as well.

CAVANAUGH: So I was about to ask you what’s next. Is that sort of thing next? And tell us how that would work.

GREALY: Well, there’s the Port District, for example, controls a lot of land along the port. I know they’re looking at installing recycling containers there and that would be a great boon for the city because that’s an area obviously where a lot of people go to play. The sports facilities, the entertainment facilities, the theme parks, have all really come on board and have been doing a great job for several years now. Street recycling is more difficult because it tends to always get very contaminated and often it becomes very difficult to recycle what you collect at those locations but that’s what’s next.

CAVANAUGH: It’s interesting. Now there are many people who wanted to join our conversation but we don’t – we’re running out of time so I’m wondering, if people – First of all, can you give us a short list of what can be recycled and what can’t?

GREALY: So, all paper.


GREALY: So basically if you can tear it. It doesn’t matter if it’s wrapping paper, cardboard, shoeboxes, office paper, you can put it all together into the recycling bin. All cans and plastic bottles and jars. And so not plastic tubs but if it’s got a narrow neck, we call it, then you can recycle it. You don’t have to worry about the number on the bottom. That’s a red herring. Just if it’s a plastic bottle or jar, you can recycle it.

CAVANAUGH: That’s very interesting. And if people still have questions about where they might put a bin or what they’re required to do, where can they call?

GREALY: 858-694-7000.

CAVANAUGH: Okay. Thank you, Stephen, so much.

GREALY: Thank you, Maureen.

CAVANAUGH: And I want to let everybody know, if you’d like to post a comment or a question about this segment, you can go online, And thank you for listening to These Days. Join us for hour two coming up in just a few minutes right here on KPBS.