Commercial waste haulers in Long Beach could be on the clock after the city council voted Tuesday night to issue a five-year notice to the companies serving businesses and apartment complexes notifying them that changes may be on the horizon.
Long Beach, which has two separate waste systems—one for single-family and multi-family dwellings under 10 units, the other serving commercial and large apartment/condo complexes—does not currently have a zero waste goal. The city’s Environmental Services Bureau handles single-family and units under 10 while 15 private entities handle the rest of the city’s waste hauling.
Vice Mayor Rex Richardson seeks to explore this item, if not change it, by initiating the five-year notice to haulers with a corresponding study to evaluate potential improvements to the system. While the study does not commit the city to future action it could open up a policy change regarding commercial waste hauling down the road.
Richardson said the overlapping truck routes that are created by a non-coordinated approach to commercial waste hauling has resulted in some neighborhoods experiencing trash pick-up days spanning the entire week.
Having those large, heavy trucks criss-crossing through the same neighborhoods repeatedly can cause severe damage to roads overtime Richardson said, referencing a 2011 report commissioned by the Bay Area Metropolitan Transportation Commission which found that one trash pickup exerted the same force on streets as the equivalent of 9,000 standard sport utility vehicles.
He referenced the neighborhood across from Houghton Park just south of Jordan High School which he said has seven different trash companies that service an area that spans just over one-third of a mile, something he estimated to about two dozen trash pick-up routes per week.
“This wastes taxpayer dollars by damaging the very roads that we’re attempting and elected to repair with Measure A and undermining our investments in our bike infrastructure and our walkable pedestrian improvements in our effort to create a more livable city,” Richardson said. “Many of our communities are already burdened with air quality issues, overlapping truck routes can also contribute to higher level of pollution.”
His proposal calls for the study to explore what the city could do in terms of making routes more efficient and safer while at the same time improving the health of the environment and the city’s roads. It also seeks an exclusive franchise system that would allow the city to enter into contracts with a limited amount of haulers to service those affected areas, something Richardson said would allow the city to hold companies to task while at the same time potentially creating good paying jobs for residents in Long Beach.
The move was applauded by a coalition of neighborhood groups that backed the effort to not only make trash hauling more efficient in the city but also to make recycling services readily available to more residents, a move that could help Long Beach reduce the amount of unnecessary waste that ends up in landfills or processing centers.
Members of the Don't Waste Long Beach coalition at a press conference before Tuesday night's vote. Photo: Don't Waste Long Beach
Robert Nothoff, Director of Don’t Waste Long Beach, a group focused on expanding access to recycling opportunities to residents across the city, said while cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Jose have already established zero waste goals including 100 percent recycling and landfill diversion programs, Long Beach has not.
“What we’re seeing is 20 percent recycling in our commercial sector and that’s really something that we need to ramp up,” Nothoff said. “The purpose of this policy is to target recycling efforts in the commercial sector and if we’re able to address that we can increase recycling rates throughout the city.”
Nothoff agreed with the vice mayor’s analysis that the policy is really multifaceted and touches on issues like environmental justice, noise and air pollution, infrastructure conservation, recycling and serving as an economic driver for the city. He added that the policy could also serve a separate, less talked about goal; diverting edible food from the trashcan to people in need.
Diana Lara, vice president of operations at Food Finders Long Beach, said that Los Angeles signed their zero-waste policy over a decade ago and part of that project included partnering with a food recovery program like Food Finders. It partners with Republic Services, one of the many companies operating in Long Beach already, and through the program has been able to acquire a refrigerated truck along with funds for maintenance, gas and salary for a driver for an entire year.
Although the truck was just acquired two weeks ago, Lara says the impacts could be dramatic. It’s entered into talks with the Dodgers to expand the team’s existent food recovery efforts and she said the new truck could result in about a 40 percent growth in what the group is able to salvage.
“It’ll be huge,” Lara said. “Forty percent of what ends up in a landfill is good wholesome food. That’s 40 percent more food that could be used to feed people in need. If we’re doing 9 million pounds a year, another 40 percent to that is significant.”
The fact that Long Beach does not currently have a zero waste program on its books puts it at odds with a handful of state laws that have installed mandatory goals for municipalities to be met as early as 2019.
Not everyone shared the exuberance over the study and the five-year mandate. Members of the apartment association warned the council that it would only raise costs to tenants with the additional fees surely being passed down to those renting units in their buildings.
Representatives from various waste haulers already operating in the city said that the notice passed by the council Tuesday night would eliminate industry competition, raise rates for businesses and renters while harming those haulers that have been servicing the city for generations.
“We have trash haulers here that have served this city for generations,” said Kelly Astor, General Counsel for the Los Angeles County Waste Management Association. “The thanks to them should not be giving them a wave on the way out. Give them the chance to go into your new system.”
Gideon Kracov, an environmental lawyer representing Cal Waste and Recycling Association which represents multiple haulers working in Long Beach, said that they share similar goals to the community advocates pushing for a change to the city’s current system. They also share the desire to be part of the discussion going forward.
“Are they concerned about the five-year notice kicking them out of the city rendering their routes worthless? Of course,” Kracov said. “Do they feel we can all work together, all stakeholders on a task force to ensure that your program is the best. To vet all those statistics in the vice mayor’s presentation, of course they do. And do these small businesses want to continue to work in your city? Of course they do.”
The study will include outreach to various stakeholders including trash haulers, residents and businesses that would be impacted by any policy change as well as considerations for existing companies to have a competitive shot at retaining or acquiring routes if a new policy is adopted in at the end of the study.