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Linda Escalante’s Blog

LA City overwhelmingly supports adoption of Zero Waste plan for apartment and commercial buildings

Linda Escalante

Posted April 3, 2014 in Environmental Justice, Green Enterprise, Living Sustainably

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All change is local.  Earlier this week, the City Council of Los Angeles voted to transform the waste hauling system for apartment and commercial buildings and set the second largest city in the nation on a path towards achieving sustainability through a robust set of Zero Waste policies.

After years of exhaustive city-wide debate and stakeholder input that included the vibrant and committed participation of Don’t Waste LA-- a coalition of environmental, environmental justice, public health, labor, and small business advocates--the City Council voted to approve the Department of Sanitation’s proposed Zero Waste LA Commercial and Multifamily Franchise Hauling system to achieve the highest recycling rates and best standards of environmental protection and working conditions.

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Currently, the multi-family and commercial building sectors are contributing about 70% (or 3-4 million tons/year) of the waste the City of LA sends to landfills. Meanwhile, our existing landfill space is reaching maximum capacity, as the closure of the Puente Hills Landfill in October 2013 illustrated.  So it’s time  to change course and join the other 55 cities in LA County and 31 cities in Orange County who’ve implemented similar systems to meet the state and city goals that set our recycling targets at 75% by 2020 and 90% by 2025.

Landfilling or burning million tons of trash subject our residents and our environment to a distressing assault.  Landfills and poorly regulated facilities disproportionately impact low income communities of color—as these communities are either employed or housed in close proximity and overexposed to the emissions and traffic caused by a constant waves of trash trucks collapsing onto their neighborhoods.   

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Fortunately, one of the most obvious changes, as the policy becomes fully implemented in 2017, will be in the seen in the fleets of trash hauling trucks—we can expect them to be less damaging to our family’s lungs and street pavement.  Currently, most haulers use their most aged and poorly maintained dirty-fueled trucks to transport trash in LA because they are not subject to regional air quality standards. To add insult to injury, they move through a grid of inefficient routes where trucks overlap throughout the city spewing diesel particulates and leachate into the neighborhoods. Each truck burns approximately 8,400 gallons of fuels per year--a dismal 3 miles to the gallon. The fact that they cause 9,000 times the damage to pavement as an SUV, also spreads the misery of poor gas mileage to other drivers thanks to the potholes and congestion.

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Another environmental gain thanks to this exclusive franchise Zero Waste system will be the reduction in greenhouse gases emitted by burying or burning trash, now that we won’t be relying much on that ancient and outdated waste management practice. According to the City of LA, a Zero Waste system will help it achieve 23 percent of its goal to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 18.9 million metric tons by 2030, equivalent to removing 40 percent of the City’s two million passenger vehicles from the road. 

Furthermore, failure to divert landfill waste poses a contamination threat to our precious groundwater resources since this waste turns into a toxic chemical and biological soup that can percolate far into the ground. It should be welcomed news for those working in LA to build its resiliency against drought and global warming impacts that we are safeguarding our local water supply sources like the San Fernando Valley groundwater basin from further crippling pollution. Moreover, this new Zero Waste system will require competitive haulers to include an organic waste composting pilot program in their bids, so that this  otherwise rotting resource can be turned into organic and nontoxic soil and fertilizer.

Lastly, it is also a win for our economy.  The blue-green alliance that stood steadfastly behind this policy was held together by the shared value that environmental protections and job creation are not mutually exclusive.  It is particularly timely that we can talk about new green jobs as LA receives dire news of persistently stagnant job growth.  Zero Waste can help us create much needed good green jobs because for every one job at a landfill, 10 jobs could be created at a recycling sorting facility if that waste were sorted rather than buried. It is estimated that nationally, a 75% recycling goal would create 1.1 million jobs by 2030. In CA, a recent NRDC report found that recycling could create 110,000 jobs across the state. In LA, our comprehensive zero waste goals are projected to create 5,000 new green jobs in refurbishing, recycling and processing, and remanufacturing. 

The waste hauling market in LA is valued at $250 million per year. This is a hefty carrot that will be offered to the companies who can implement the best environmental and labor practices because only through an exclusive franchise with Zero Waste goals can competitive bidders enjoy the economies of scale, efficiencies, and incentives to invest in a gold standard materials recovery and remanufacturing system for the future.

Alas, it is a proud moment for those who care about the environment, communities, and workers in Los Angeles.  

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LA Times coverage on historical City Council vote 

For more on this long and worthwhile fight read Adrian Martinez' blog

Follow Don't Waste Coalition in Facebook

(Photos: Courtesy of LAANE, Breathe LA)

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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