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How San Diego's Zero Waste Plan Is Different From Standard Paper And Plastic Recycling

Bulldozers push around piles of trash at San Diego's Miramar Landfill.
Katie Orr
Bulldozers push around piles of trash at San Diego's Miramar Landfill.
How San Diego's Zero Waste Plan Is Different From Standard Paper And Plastic Recycling
How San Diego's Zero Waste Plan Is Different From Standard Paper And Plastic Recycling GUESTS:Ken Prue, recycling program manager, San Diego Department of Environmental Services Jessica Toth, executive director, Solana Center for Environmental Innovation

Our top story is the effort to recycle and divert waste from the Miramar landfill. This is going into high gear in the city of San Diego. The city Council has approved the goal of reaching zero waste by the year 2040. Even though San Diego has gotten high marks in its recycling efforts, the zero waste concept is a challenge. It will take a new way of thinking about how to dispose the things we want to throw away. Joining me are Ken Prue to recycling manager of the San Diego Department of environmental services. Also Jessica Toth from Solana Center for Environmental Innovation . It started as recyclers the first curbside recycler in Southern California. Welcome to the program. 10, how is the -- Ken, how is this different than the standard plastic recycling were familiar with? It builds on that doing more of it rethinking our waste or our discards thinking of it as waste or commodity other than waste we just throw away. So comes down to changing behaviors to prevent waste and to recycle more. So it's a holistic approach to reuse everything we throw away. Yes, and thinking of it as a continuous improvement process. Reuse what you can and recycle more. Just really keep thinking of ways you can do better. Jessica other cities have begun this zero waste efforts. Talk about some of the notable benefits cities have seen. The city of Los Angeles last year adopted the zero waste last year. San Francisco has stated that they hope to hit zero waste by 2020 which is exactly 20 years prior to what were aiming for. So there's a lot of experience out there and they are seeing significant diversion rates. We are right now at 67% and have been there for 5 years. So we still have a hurdle to get over. The biggest piece of it is the organic material in the landfills making up 40% of what we have in our landfills here in San Diego all that is either edible or compensable. So if you can imagine the additional landfill space and time that we buy with getting that out of the landfill. Be avoided greenhouse gases that are emitted from it and essentially, with organic material or any material that can be diverted, it retains value. Assistance is thrown into the landfill it no longer has that value. A study that was done by an environmental services approximated $54 million of material is thrown into the landfills. Ken, Jessica talked about that 67% figure. We touted it for a while but it seems to have been stuck there. Can you tell me why? We spent at a plateau there and while we're doing more programs. Some of the increase in population and employment. But some of it is just a matter of people getting comfortable. So system matter of upping our game and diverting more. Just to hit 75% we need to hit another so many tons. Further and further. It just comes back to doing more and recycling more. And right now without any additional programs are anything. Are people still putting many things into the regular trash that could be recycled? Absolutely. We did a study for one year with waste generated from the city. 76% of what is being thrown away is materials that can be recycled . what is that. What does that constitute? It's a lot of paper and things you put in your blue bins. This other materials, construction waste, the whole spectrum. But so much of that material is recyclable. Do think a lot of people are still in the same mindset that only a few things can be put into the recycling bin? Several years ago you expanded that to a whole bunch of plastic. A lot of different things. I think a lot of times people would think papers and cardboard. But we take the food and beverage cartons like soy milk containers and orange juice containers. All rigid plastics. Margarine tubs and such, a whole variety of items where we weren't able to take a few years ago. More things can go into the blue been. That things be to another point. Recycling bins get full before their depth then people start throwing things in the regular trash. Is increasing recycled pickup a part of this zero waste plan? In the city of San Diego those who have those services biweekly is due to funding. It's something we'd like to expand weekly. But it's nothing but a part of this 2020. Hopefully soon thereafter. It comes down to dollars and cents. The San Diego have a hard time for trash pickup that's actually prohibited actually does this factor into it? Absolutely. If they want to build the recycling structure it spilled into the rate structure. We are prohibited from charging. Dear Stanek recycling is paid out of our organic cycling fund which is paid by users and franchise dollars. We would have to increase the cycling see on those parties. So it's a much more complex and challenging situation that the other local cities or the cities in California. So what's the first phase of the city's plan to get to zero waste. Will be focusing on businesses? It will be focused on all fronts but heavy focus on businesses and multi family and also on those who sell to landfills like homeowners and construction contract businesses. Is a state legislation that will prohibit large distances from putting organic waste into landfills. That starts next year in San Diego. Yes, that will be the biggest component of our lift to 75% were estimating over 100,000 tons through conversion. It's primarily food scraps and yard trimmings and for multi families it's mostly yard trimmings. Organic yard waste, those things, it's a new concept for recycling. It's going to happen soon as we just heard. How does this work? That me break it down.. And if material is made up of yard trimmings as well as food waste. Yard trimmings, we have a lot of facilities in the community for handling mulching and grinding yard trimmings. What we lack is a way to handle the food portion. So if you can imagine your large grocery stores, if they generate as much as a cubic yards a week, they need to find an alternative. We don't have a large open facility that will accept food scrap. We have the greenery at Miramar, but not the capacity to handle all of the supply that we have. So we did to look for creative ways to divert our food waste. In my mind is that the biggest part of challenge right now. There's a big piece of education outreach that needs to happen. For example, a number of innovative programs that we have tried. You have a pilot project on recycling in Encinitas. Yes and one that I'd like to highlight last weekend, some 15,000 attendees came to moonlight beach for the program switch foot event. We gathered a team of 100 volunteers educating people at the point of disposal. Telling them where things go. People want to do the right thing but they don't necessarily know what that is. After educating people we looked at all of the waste. There was 3000 pounds of waste generated at this event. We went through all of it. To the point of how important. Annexes. 57% of that was your traditional recycling. Bottles and plastics. We got up to 83% diversion for the entire event by pulling in by weight, the food. So almost 800 pounds of food waste that was generated at this event. What do we need to do in order to recycle food waste? That EPA has produced a hierarchy of preferably usable food scraps starting with source reduce, then feeding people in need, feeding animals, and composting come see for the landfill. So essentially the food material holds its nutrient value. Similar to recyclables, you don't want them to end up in the landfill. So one of the concepts that I Fred figured student trying to develop is called community composting. Basically moving it from the individual who does some composting for their own particular garden and moving it into a much larger facility. Since the mid-90s we have been running composting classes for individuals and small businesses. Is now time to start looking at the larger grocery stores. Identifying within communities, what I call organics marketplaces, supply and demand. If you go to a grocery store and do away start. A certain amount is editable. Let's connect the grocery stores with the food banks. That's one way that the stores can get just below that threshold. Then we move down the hierarchy. If we can eventually composted within the community. That was the pilot program. I wanted to ask you Ken, a caller asked if there was anywhere in San Diego you can recycle artificial turf. At this time there is not. At least not locally. My larger question is, you're talking about a lot of things. About creating a community compost area and making the pickup of recyclable materials marked different in frequent. Green bins and such all the things you want to see coming online. How much will this cost? The cost for getting to 75%, the initial steps, it will be about $8 million. This is primarily impacts do to loss of revenue say at the Miramar landfill. Where you get paid on the tonnage disposed. So by disposing of last you end up with less revenue. And for other recycling programs. It's about an $8 million per year impact once we got to 2020 but we've also in measures we propose to cover those losses so were basically at a wash. With a lot let's trash. Yes will continually have to address and stick with that. Thank you Ken Prue and Jessica Toth .

City of San Diego's Zer Waste Plan
The City of San Diego's plan to reach a goal of zero waste in Miramar Landfill by 2040.
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The San Diego City Council approved a plan this week to reach zero waste at the city's Miramar Landfill by 2040.

To reach the zero waste goal, city staff established goals for along the way. Now, the city diverts 67 percent of its waste from the landfill primarily through curbside recycling and yard waste collection programs. By 2020, the goal is to reach 75 percent waste diversion and 90 percent by 2035.


There will be no changes to the city's curbside recycling or green waste collection programs to meet the 75 percent goal, said Ken Prue, recycling manager for the Department of Environmental Services.

“It comes down to rethinking waste — to changing our behaviors,” Prue told KPBS Midday Edition on Thursday. “It’s a continuous improvement process.”

Prue said the framework to meet the 75 percent goal includes:

• Adhering to AB 1826 which goes into effect in 2016 and requires large businesses across the state to recycle organic materials.

• Setting minimum recycling requirements for franchise waste haulers.


• Establishing a new facility at Miramar Landfill, the Resource Recovery Center, which increases the center's capacity for recycling and composting.

• Allowing fibrous yard waste like palm leaves to be recycled at the Miramar greenery.

How San Diego’s Zero Waste Plan Is Different From Standard Paper And Plastic Recycling