San Diego! Are we serious about recycling?

Economic and political conditions have stopped the expansion of San Diego's curbside recycling program. The city would like it to grow ... but needs your help

by Carolyn Chase
bout 84,000 homes in the City of San Diego have curbside recycling services; another 213,000 are going without. Mayor Susan Golding and other City Council Members have expressed support for city-wide expansion, but have also opposed legally mandating recycling - as has been done in the County and other local cities. The result has been a hybrid system where San Diego has managed to subsidize recycling services for some residents, but not for others. The City currently provides curbside recycling pickup for 42,000 homes, while services for the other 40,000 are contracted out to private hauler. The rest of us either haul it ourselves or send it to the landfill.
Over the past year, the City Environmental Services Department has studied ways to expand the program. Polls and focus groups have shown the demand is there. "When am I going to get curbside recycling?" and "Why don't I have curbside at my house?" are two of the most common questions regularly fielded by Council offices. But will we agree to pay for it?
The City is in a tough spot. One group of folks is already getting this "free" service, and another much larger number are going without and wondering why. There is not enough financing available from the current approach in order to expand the system. Why did this happen?

Paying for pickup

While most cities charge a fee for trash pickup - and commonly use this as an incentive and funding mechanism for both recycling and waste reduction - ordinances in San Diego prohibit this approach. But the City did want to find a way to respond to public demand for recycling. So, a partial program has been under way, but without any way to pay for expansion.
The Environmental Services Department has gone through an extensive study of department operations and financing, and analyzed ways to bring curbside recycling to all the homes in its service area. They have concluded that what we have today is a system that needs to change and evolve in order to survive. They are recommending that the current curbside recycling program be replaced with a city-wide automated system with a fee-based/rebate system.
Under the new system, participants would pay a monthly fee and receive an annual rebate. Fees and rebates would be based on system and market costs. While the expenses should stay relatively stable, the revenue will fluctuate based on commodity markets for recyclables. The estimated costs for the city-wide program would be in the range of $2.50 - $3.00 per house per month. Revenues over the past year have fluctuated between $0.75 - $1.50 per house per month. When prices go down the rebate would be less, when prices go up, program members would get more back.
The bottom line is that the current system cannot be sustainably expanded without a financing base. The expansion of the program city-wide would cost an estimated $7-12 million - at a time when the City is strapped for cash. The sale of the recyclables collected from the program only covers a portion of the operating costs.

Landfill laments

In addition to an increase in recycling, the program will give waste reduction efforts a shot in the arm because the City would no longer accept common recyclables in their weekly trash pickups. Residents could either take their recyclables to private groups or choose to use the City system.
The City has an additional incentive to provide the program because this diversion of materials increases the life of the landfill. Competitive pressures have reduced landfill revenues, putting additional pressure on finances and eliminating funding needed for future expansion.

What you can do

If we agree in the name of fairness that the system should be expanded, then we are going to have to help pay for it. Would you pay a monthly fee for curbside? Even if you're getting it "for free" now?
If curbside is to be expanded, your help is needed!

"PLAN 2000 - Partnership for a Sustainable Future"
August 21 - 6PM - 7PM
9601 Ridgehaven Ct., San Diego

From I-15 exit Balboa heading west. Take the first left (south) at signal at Viewridge. Left again (at the T) on to Ridgehaven Ct.

Contacting the Mayor and City Council

District  Name	            Phone     Fax       e-mail
Mayor     Susan Golding      236-6330  236-7228
Dist 1    Harry Mathis       236-6611  236-6999
Dist 2    Byron Wear         236-6622  236-6996
Dist 3    Chris Kehoe        236-6633  595-1481
Dist 4    George Stevens     236-6644  236-6529
Dist 5    Barbara Warden     236-6655  238-0915
Dist 6    Valerie Stallings  236-6616  236-6529
Dist 7    Judy McCarty       236-6677  236-6539
Dist 8    Juan Vargas        236-6688  231-7918

Carolyn Chase is editor of SDET and Chair of the City's Waste Management Advisory Board