LA’s Slow Push to Meet Its Zero Waste Target

ENVIRONMENT POLITICS - There’s a growing impatience amongst those committed to pushing LA to meet its ambitious Zero Waste goals.

For years, the Don’t Waste LA Coalition, which includes Sierra Club, Coalition for Clean Air, Sustain LA and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), has been pushing to address the large portion of trash that goes to landfills from businesses and large apartment buildings. 

Addressing this sector will be a game changer for LA.  And after an arduous process with a multitude of hearings, workshops, and meetings, we’re ready to move forward. 

Right now, the open permit system that handles waste from businesses and large apartment buildings has failed us. Its bottom barrel competition has left us with a measly 19 percent diversion rate for businesses in LA. 

And, despite the best effort from business lobbyists to defend this type of program, we’ve seen a lack of effort to live up to the environmental stewardship demanded in a city like Los Angeles. Basically, if we ask haulers to bring their “A game,” they will. Right now, we ask them just to show up, and that is the level of service we’re getting from these companies. 

As many reports confirm, the waste we send to landfills not only has in indelible impact on our environment, it also is a waste of jobs because landfills employ far fewer people than recycling, composting and reuse manufacturing. Sure, there are isolated accounts throughout the City that have good service and are recycling, but to address this difficult environmental challenge, we need to make the isolated account the norm. An exclusive franchise with strong standards is the way to do this. 

Tomorrow, the implementation plan, which is the roadmap for executing an exclusive franchise system, will have its third hearing in the Energy & Environment Committee and Ad Hoc Committee on Waste Reduction and Recycling. This is the moment for the City Councilmembers on these committees to show leadership and recommend that the City Council approve this roadmap. 

The Don’t Waste LA Coalition, as it was during the many hearings before, will be there to advocate the pillars of its campaign—protecting the environment, protecting workers and an unrelenting accountability for this business that has evaded accountability in LA for too long. 

While the business coalition Angelenos for a Clean Environment has apparently been dismantled, some of its members have resurfaced with a new message. Essentially, they’re saying, “Remember when we said this program would result in the sky falling and killing businesses? We were kind of bluffing; now give us a piece of this action.” 

Instead of the 11 service zones with four zones ripe for competition from the medium-sized haulers in the region, they are asking for 20 zones. The idea, I guess, is that a piece of business should be carved out for all those participating now. They do this in the guise of “protecting small haulers.” 

We might as well set a goal of protecting unicorns. Legitimate, small haulers are not really implicated by this program. Most of them do construction and demolition and roll-off, which is not covered by this program. 

I admit that there are haulers smaller than Republic, Crown, Waste Management and Athens, but these medium-sized haulers are still multi-million dollar companies. 

In fact, many of these medium-sized haulers have aggressively competed for exclusive franchises in other LA County cities. Competition is the key to this program’s success, and while some may find it appealing to have more zones, it dilutes the program and distracts us from the real goals of this program—protecting the environment, workers, and creating accountability. 

To get the investment in the infrastructure needed to achieve Zero Waste, we need to provide scale to those companies willing to invest. 

In fact, several environmental groups have articulated that they would like to see 10 to 11 zones. The idea behind this is to reduce administrative burdens. 

These groups would much rather see the Bureau of Sanitation spend time bird-dogging the haulers to make sure they are living up to recycling promises, instead of administering nine additional contracts, some with haulers that have a checkered past and a propensity to not follow the rules. 

Overall, it is time for LA to move forward. For this reason, I’m encouraging the Energy & Environment Committee and the Ad Hoc Committee on Waste Reduction and Recycling to take a bold step and recommend the full Council approve the implementation plan. The Council needs to approve this implementation plan by the end of the month. 

This is not the end of the road. There will be many more months of additional deliberation on this issue, a California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) analysis that the Chamber of Commerce, et al requested, and lots more public outreach. While not the end of the road, the vote tomorrow is vital to keeping this train on the track.


(Adrian Martinez is the project attorney for the Southern California Air Team, Santa Monica and a staff member of the Natural Resources Defense Council. This piece was posted first at



Tags: Adrian Martinez, CEQA, waste, waste target,









Vol 11 Issue 32

Pub: Apr 19, 2013