Finding fool's gold in LA's waste hauling industry
When I was younger, my brother duped me into thinking I had huge wealth by giving me an iron pyrite rock, otherwise known as fool’s gold. With the recent Chief Administrative Officer’s report on waste in Los Angeles, I’m having flashbacks to this moment in my youth.
Throughout the debate of waste franchising in the City of LA, spokespeople from Angelenos for a Clean Environment, a coalition of business interests, have used rhetoric, not facts, to oppose a strategy to bring order to a chaotic system. These lobbyists were even able to convince the CAO to buy into their shaky analysis. The CAO released a report late last week that is dubious at best and recklessly dangles illusory environmental benefits and millions of dollars for the general fund. So, as folks evaluate the various proposals now being discussed (e.g. non-exclusive versus exclusive franchises), I suggest that we be skeptical of programs that purport to achieve huge benefits overnight. These are nothing more than fool’s gold. I learned my lesson during my youth and won’t get fooled again.
Here is the testimony I will provide at the Energy and Environment/Ad Hoc Committee on Waste Reduction and Recycling today.
• On behalf of the NRDC and our thousands of members in the City, I support moving forward with the exclusive franchise policy framework from the Bureau of Sanitation.
• I provide this support after participating in the stakeholder process conducted by the Bureau of Sanitation, reading the Bureau of Sanitation’s Reports, the HF&H reports, and after spending countless hours with my colleagues at groups like Sierra Club thinking about how to develop a program with the highest likelihood of success from an environmental perspective. I also provide this support after reading the policy proposal in the CAO report, which does not provide a sound basis for this committee to bite on a non-exclusive system.
• Overall, throughout this process, we've heard success stories from opponents of an exclusive franchise model. We’ve heard from studios who tout their efforts to green their waste operations. We’ve heard from customers who like their haulers, including haulers who provide recycling for them. But, unfortunately, in a City of approximately 100,000 contracts in the multi-family and commercial sector, these success stories are too few and far between. For example, we've heard from one customer who claimed to have high diversion rates next to a building with no recycling services offered.
• To meet the ambitious objectives of 90% diversion from landfills by 2025, we need to make these isolated success stories the norm.
• We need to create a new paradigm of waste planning where we look at service zones, demand haulers compete aggressively to show which company can provide quality service with meaningful environmental standards like less burdensome truck operations and waste diversion and recycling - and then engage in long-term comprehensive planning that serves all city residents in that service zone, and that replicates, rather than marvels at, the programming and success of the city’s highest performers. We have to bring that level of performance to scale…and an exclusive franchise system is the only way to get that done.
• To end, this process will not be simple. Creating the waste system for the next fifty years requires work. We need to figure out issues like 1) how to address material recovery facility (MRF) standards, 2) how to push away from a system that encourages MRFs in certain pockets of the City; and 3) how to maximize diversion from landfills. And, I encourage these committees not to be tempted by proposals that claim benefits overnight. These proposals are nothing more than fool’s gold. So, I encourage these committees to make a decision to move to a model with a higher likelihood of success to achieve environmental and financial objectives, which is an exclusive franchise model.