Trash Crisis – Another Urban Myth
There is simply no shortage of places to put LA’s trash. In fact, many local and out-of-state companies are even now fighting for it and expending great sums on legions of lobbyists and swelling the campaign funds of politicians. All this to get our garbage.
Why would anyone want LA’s garbage, you might rightfully ask? The answer is that historically premiere motivator–money. Once more the smoke and mirror experts are again applying their craft, this time it’s to statistics. Now the waste giants, BFI (Allied Waste) and Waste Management are trying to show that the only way to save the City money is to keep on dumping at Sunshine Canyon and Bradley landfills. They have submitted unreliable and inaccurate numbers. But, as the Chief Analysts for the City, Ron Deaton who can put a spin on anything said: “It’s not as necessary to be right as it is to be definite.”
In the case of Sunshine Canyon, we were naively optimistic, believing that no one in their right mind would put a mega-dump directly adjacent to the largest water treatment and storage facility in the nation, or allow the destruction of an oak forest containing over 4000 “protected” oak trees. Unfortunately, we failed to recognize the power of money to corrupt a city, and to corrupt it absolutely. The phrase “trash crisis” was the invented by the industry to persuade us to believe that we would be sitting amid decaying crud, if their urban dump projects were not approved. Money flowed and approvals were issued. As for Bradley, the Los Angeles County Integrated Waste Management Task Force has weighed in and said that: “Bradley Landfill and the city of Los Angeles didn’t follow proper steps six years ago when the dump was given permission to raise its height 10 feet and slightly increase capacity.”
The sadder but wiser now, we invite you to see how we came to the revelation that there was no crisis and that alternatives abound. Shortly after Jim Hahn came into office, he appointed a Landfill Oversight Committee (LOC) to provide him with recommendations toward establishing a trash policy for LA. The mayor appointed a number of persons living near these landfills as part of that committee, to represent the people most impacted by them. We won’t go into the unfortunate plight of those who live near these creeping, cancerous monsters on the land, since such a description would take up an entire supplement to this paper. Suffice to say, we were more than eager to find alternatives which we at first assumed would be hard to find.
Surprisingly, we found these alternative technologies appeared to be abundant. Each week brought calls and visits from salesmen bearing video tapes and glossy folders, produced by companies who were anxious to take City trash and turn it into all sorts of useable products. They were even willing to build the necessary facilities at no cost to the City in return for: City support, a place to locate the facility, and a guaranteed wastestream. We asked hard questions about the environmental impacts, and many of these companies were more than willing to guarantee closed systems; systems that would not vent into the air the gases which are now constantly escaping into the air and/or are being incinerated at our landfills.
We were also astounded by the hundreds of recycling facilities that are already operational in the City, and who would be happy to expand operations, and to increase the diversity of the products they recycle. Some estimated that they could recycle more than 90% of the trash. We visited recycling plants and found some to be smelly and some to be clean. We slapped on sun-screen and visited remote sites, in desert locations to assure ourselves that they were far from people. Why, we wondered didn’t LA take advantage of these offers? Again the answer was money. Private haulers head for the cheapest dumps, not the recycleries where saving resources is a priority, and sorting makes it more expensive. Nothing will change this until fees are imposed on unrecycled trash, and the price of disposal by recycling leveled.
The LOC took their mandate seriously. Among the plans that the committee ultimately emerged with was to build in each of the six designated wasteshed areas of the city, a materials-recovery facility (MRF) and a transfer-station that would recycle all materials before rail-hauling any residual waste to remote locations far from people. The Mayor accepted the plan and the committee’s recommendation to close landfills in the City when its contracts expired in 2006. Now, some of the politicians are waffling. They opine that if everyone else is still going to send their trash to Sunshine, why shouldn’t we, since it’s so cheap. Their reasoning that doing the wrong thing is OK, because everyone else is going to do it, doesn’t hold up with any responsible parent, and shouldn’t reflect the ethics of our City.
Through recycling, rather than dumping, we will be able to save irreplaceable resources. This would ultimately save the costs of the cleanup of these landfills, whose incineration of gases compromises air quality, whose location poses a significant threat to the water supply, and which will continue to pollute decades after closure.
We want the City to stand firm in its resolve to build only transfer stations that have the capability of recycling all the trash before it is transferred. The City must locate these equitably throughout the city, so that no one area bears more than its share. The City should seek price-leveling by putting their current franchise fees only on unrecycled trash. And, oh yes, we want the 55% of L.A. that doesn’t recycle (apartments and commercial) be included into the citywide recycling program as soon as possible. When we lose, we lose forever our precious natural resources, and we throw away not only trash, but also our children’s heritage.
-President North Valley Coalition
-Environmental Affairs Commissioner City of Los Angeles
-Member Mayor James Hahn’s Landfill Oversight Committee