Developing San Diego's Zero Waste Plan
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Our top story on Midday Edition, San Diego city officials are proud of the fact that 68% of the city waste is diverted away from landfills through recycling. But there is concern that we are stuck at that number, and the recycling rate has not improved in three years. The state says cities have to recycle 75% of waste by 2020, and San Diego city officials have said even more ambitious goal of zero waste by 2040. In order to jumpstart San Diego's recycling efforts, a series of meetings has begun to develop a zero waste plan. I would like to welcome my guests. Ken Prue is Waste Reduction Manager with the City of San Diego. Rebecca Hays is Recycling Specialist with the City of San Diego. Welcome to the show. Ken, what does zero waste mean? KEN PRUE: It comes down to be thinking how we treat discards. Instead of just putting it in the black bin or in the trash, think of waste as a resource. With the process we are working on now we are focused on the goal of 75% by 2020, striving towards zero waste by 2040. It is really a goal, and thinking of it as a continuous improvement process. Will we get to 0%? Likely not. There is a point it may be technically feasible, but at what cost? So we want to be practical, coming down to recycling more and thinking about how we do purchases, and thinking about waste and discarding. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: You pose an interesting scenario, thinking of waste as a resource. This is a new way of thinking, and certainly not the kind of thinking that has filled up the Miramar landfill. Tell us the status of the Miramar landfill. How many years until we cannot use it anymore? KEN PRUE: Currently we have been really successful about pushing out the closure date of Miramar landfill. We recently looked at the calculations, it was recently considered 2022. Now, we have seen with other improvements we have done we are currently looking at 2025. With additional recycling efforts we hope to push it out further and further. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Rebecca, the interim goal is a 75% reduction of waste going into the landfill by 2020. That is only six years, is there a sense of urgency about this? REBECCA HAYS: Yes, I think there's a sense of urgency because we need to implement a myriad of strategies. The sense of urgency is finding the strategies that will fit, and be financially feasible, as well as changing the funding mechanism to make the strategies work. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: If everyone were to get on board for the recycling efforts we have in place right now, if there were 100% compliance, could we get to that goal of 75% without limiting any other policies? REBECCA HAYS: Without implementing any other policies, with people just recycling and setting out yard waste, we would get pretty close to 75%, if not exceed it. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I wonder if San Diego needs more education, to be able to improve the recycling policies that are on board now. KEN PRUE: Absolutely. We see education as being the key, with the effort of recycling at the source, or reducing the amount generated at the source. It makes better for the entire recycling process. We look at how residents are doing now, single-family homes are recycling about 23%. Businesses and multifamily properties about 26%, city facilities themselves about 27%. Our overall recycling rate being at 68%, it really is driven now by the construction industry. They are recycling quite a bit, and the material is really heavy, it's measured by weight. Back to your point, if we all just a little more, you definitely get there to 75%. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: In other words, we have a long way to go as residents and businesses, and even as municipalities in order to get anywhere near that 75%? KEN PRUE: Yes, and to get to 75% we would need about 320,000 tons of materials diverted away from the landfill. It is quite a bit of material, but it is definitely achievable. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: The first zero waste stakeholder session was held last week. Who is identified as a stakeholder? KEN PRUE: I think everyone. We all have a part in recycling more, and finding solutions. It is everywhere from residents, businesses, nonprofits, to other government agencies, even other government regulators. We are all part of the problem and all part of the solution. We're really looking at trying to make sure that everyone does their part. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Who do you identify as a stakeholder who doesn't actually see that they have a stake in this game? REBECCA HAYS: I think a lot of stakeholders may be to not realize the impact on waste and waste diversion efforts. For instance, schools, we're working with schools right now in developing new educational programs that can help students understand more about zero waste and how to divert materials. We are working with the San Diego County Office of Education to develop new curriculum to talk about waste and waste practices, so they are really understanding where the trash is going and how they can divert it. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And Rebecca, what kind of comments or suggestions did you hear during the first stakeholder meeting? REBECCA HAYS: We heard a lot of great comments and suggestions. For instance, we heard about nonprofits doing different things in San Diego right now, and that we needed to connect people and bring everyone to the table and spread the word. Example would be one nonprofit taking little equipment and shipping it to a developing country, but they may need someone else to help them with storage, outrage, and we really want to take some of those stakeholders that may need a little extra help and bring them together and have some kind of work collaborative and synergistic effect, rather than working autonomously. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What about people who are manufacturing or producing items here in San Diego? The whole idea of the way those items are packaged comes into effect as well, because if we do not have as much stuff that comes with the product, we don't have that much we have to throw away. KEN PRUE: Absolutely, packaging is a major factor, and also how we produce products. If we make items to be more durable, longer lasting and even repairable, we have the potential, the ability for it to keep being used or become another product, where so many things now are disposable, you may be able to recycle it, that it is still a short-term one time use where you're done. We would really like to shift that paradigm. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What kind of changes in new policies are city staff considering to get San Diego to zero waste? KEN PRUE: We have a number of things, one is to expand the green waste recycling collection, which is not citywide at this point. Being able to expand that so all of our customers for the city service have that opportunity. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Explain that for people who do not have that in their areas. KEN PRUE: Right now about three quarters of homes have green waste recycling services. That would be yard clippings, your clippings, leaves and grass, pruning and trimmings. It is not citywide, partly because of the fact that in San Diego, single-family homes serviced by the city do not pay a direct fee-for-service. It's because of an ordinance from 1919 called the People's ordinance. Basically it says they would be provided that service with no direct fee. So, the trash services covered by the general fund and the recycling collection is actually covered by a recycling fund paid for by users of our landfill and franchised haulers, basically the people in multifamily and commercial properties are paying those fees. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Right, they pay to have waste removed. They don't use city services, the user contract with these operators, is that right? KEN PRUE: Right, and part of the fees that they are paying are the recycling fees, or AB 939 fees, which go to help cover the recycling programs. But a big chunk of it is actually recycling for single-family homes. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: How about the infrastructure that would be needed in order to expand these programs to expand the green recycling, and even include one of the plans for a food disposal, a way to reclaim and reuse and recycle up food scraps, the food garbage that we have. What do we need in order to do that? REBECCA HAYS: We have a really great food recycling program in place right now. But we do want to expand it. One of the things we're looking at is applying for a grant. We have applied for grant funding to expand composting systems so that we can compost things a little more quickly, which will allow us to take in more material. If we are able to expand green waste collection, we will have the capacity to receive those materials and process them in a timely manner and we will be able to offer compost and mulch to the public as well. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: It sounds like there will have to be money found for this somewhere, is that right, Ken? KEN PRUE: Yes, and one of the key aspects of this, right now our funding sources from the landfill fees or from recycling fees, it is paid on material that is thrown away. We need to shift it so it is based on all of the resources, looking at all of the materials generated. That way gives us a sustainable funding source platform to work from, because right now the more that is recycled, the less is thrown away, therefore the less money that we have for these programs, the services that the public uses and wants. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So you are trying to find a way to make that what comes out of recycling programs actually give money back to the city so it sort of pays for itself, in a way? KEN PRUE: There is a portion, the commodity sales with the blue bin program, we do get about $4 million a year back. That offsets the cost of collection. It's not a revenue generator that will pay for all of these programs. The biggest thing for us, for our overall funding, is to get away from it being based on being disposed, and getting it towards being based on the amount of material generated. Then we will have a predictable funding source and we can continue to provide programs that are desired. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: There are some pretty successful green programs when it comes to big cafeterias around town. I'm thinking of UC San Diego and their efforts. Also, I am wondering if we can think about incorporating that into the way commercial restaurants and commercial eateries also dispose of waste. KEN PRUE: Absolutely. Right now we have about sixty companies with about 100 sites that are participating in the commercial food waste program, anywhere from UCSD, the convention center, to medium-size restaurants. Large generators have their own dedicated containers, and others have smaller containers on a collection routes. We are looking to expand that were and more. Really where they have a sizable amount of material, it is beneficial to collect it separately. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Rebecca, what would it mean to the average San Diegan, how with their relationship to garbage change as we go through the years and get closer and closer to zero waste? REBECCA HAYS: It means a shift in the way that you think about resources and materials. From the time that you purchase something, you think about the packaging it comes in. You think what am I going to do with this at the end. Do you think about, before throwing it away, how can I reuse it, how can I recycle it, how can I up cycle it, can it be composted? It is really just looking at the whole package and find a way for it to be used again rather than disposed of. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Are there other cities closer to zero waste that we are? KEN PRUE: Definitely, we're doing a great job all in all, but there are cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles, there are a number of other jurisdictions particularly in the Bay Area and throughout the world who have adopted zero waste plans or philosophies maximizing the use of resources and minimizing discard. We definitely have studied San Jose, San Francisco, Oakland, folks there and elsewhere. You see how we can learn from those examples. We don't need to reinvent the wheel, these are things that can be done and are being done. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What happens at the other zero waste meetings that are planned in the next couple of months? This one was for stakeholders to talk about suggestions and concerns and so forth. What happens to those suggestions, and where do we go from here? KEN PRUE: The first one we really laid out a draft framework, if you will. We got all of the input and we are taking the input and seeing how those can key into the plan or potentially replace elements of the plan. Based on the research we have done, we have a lot of ideas, but we are also looking at feedback from all portions of the community to see if this is a fit for our community. Does our community see this and want this? Each meeting will be refining our plan, and ultimately, we have three meetings up to the end of September. From there, we will be going to the council committee and city council with the plan to be implemented. We are definitely engaging stakeholders with our meetings, but also community planning groups, industry groups, and businesses. If you have a group we would love to meet with you and get your input, because it takes all of us to make this work. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And Rebecca, the more buy-in that you get on this process as it goes through the process, I guess the idea is that it is easier to get people to actually commit to the funding and the personal changes it will take to make this program work. REBECCA HAYS: Absolutely. Part of the stakeholder processes making sure that we are not developing this plan in a vacuum, that we are getting buy-in in the early stages of the process, and that people feel that their opinions, strategies, and options are being heard as well, and we are taking everything into consideration. We want to encourage everyone to go out to stakeholder meetings, get onto the website and see what we're doing and send us feedback or comments. If you can't make it, you can always send us an email. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: All right, thank you both very much.
San Diego has set an ambitious goal to be waste free by 2040. Currently, 68 percent of the city's waste is diverted away from landfills for recycling.
San Diego city officials are proud of the current level of recycling.
But there is concern that the city is stuck at that number. The recycling rate hasn't improved in three years.
Rebecca Hays, a recycling specialist for the city of San Diego, told KPBS Midday Edition the new recycling initiative will get the city on track to its goal.
“We have a really great food recycling program in place right now but we do want to expand it," she said. "We have applied for grant funding to expand our compost take-in system so that we can compost things more quickly which will allow us to take in more materials. So if we are able to expand our green waste collection we’ll have the capacity to receive those materials and process them in a timely manner. “
In order to jump start San Diego recycling efforts, a series of meetings are underway to develop a zero waste plan.
California says cities have to recycle 75 percent of waste by 2020.