Low Recycling Rates Costing City Big: Audit

A recent audit found major inefficiencies in the Environmental Services Department's Waste Reduction and Recycling Programs.

With 1.3 million tons of waste being deposited there a year, the Miramar Landfill will likely completely fill up and have to close by 2025, the audit states. For taxpayers, that means a more than triple-fold increase to the amount for hauling trash away from the city's residential and business areas.

Because San Diego is prohibited from charging residents or businesses directly for trash collection as a result of the 1919 People's Ordinance, the city department is hamstringed from using incentives like rebates or lower trash fees to encourage people to recycle.

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"So, making it more convenient is a critical component," said Stephen Grealy, the Deputy Director Waste Reduction and Disposal Division. "The other piece is education, and also ultimately enforcement - that's something that we need to do because we don't have the price signals that other cities are able to do."

Among the audit's key findings:

  • Some 30,000 people don't even have recycle bins.
  • Some city libraries and other city-run facilities don't even meet the minimum recycling requirements outlined in the mandatory recycling ordinance.
  • 27 percent recycling rate at some city facilities, only slightly better than the 26 percent rate for commercial and multi-family facilities.

City Auditor Eduardo Luna said there's quite a bit of room for improvement.

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The inefficiencies aren’t just affecting the landfill. Because the city has 12 different trash-haulers operating in the city, many of their routes overlap. Like one alley in University Heights, where Audit Manager Matthew Helm found four different trash companies doing weekly pick-ups within 20 yards of each other in a small alley.

With trash trucks causing 9,000 times the impact on city streets of an SUV, these patterns can cause significant damage, according to the audit. The city is currently spending $70 million to slurry seal it’s streets.

Finally, because trash haulers get the same rate whether they make one trip to the city dump or two trips – one to the recycling center and one to the landfill – there may be an immediate financial
penalty for haulers to encourage residents to recycle.

“We will be bringing forward to council, a plan that requires that waste-haulers recycle graduating and increasing percentages of the trash they handle,” Grealy said. “So, I think that will be the ultimate solution for us.”

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