Wednesday, July 18, 2007 | On the floor of voiceofsandiego.org‘s small office sit three teeming grocery bags filled with recyclables. To recycle, the employees of this office — and scores of other office buildings, condos and apartments around San Diego — need to find some way to do it themselves. When these bags are filled, we take them down to the trunks of our cars and haul the bags to the neighborhood recreation center to be recycled.
It’s a nice little initiative on our part. But how many other offices around the city are doing the same? We hope a lot, but we shouldn’t be left to simply hoping.
Right now, office buildings, restaurants and multi-family housing aren’t required to provide recycling to their tenants. And many, seeing the added cost and hassle, don’t.
But there’s talk at City Hall right now about instituting a mandatory recycling ordinance. It’s about time. Nearly every other municipality in the region did something like this in the early 1990s. Elsewhere, some of the most forward-thinking have already moved past recycling and are pushing zero waste policies.
Here, we’re sadly behind the times. An ordinance was supposedly being prepared to debut last fall, but it never saw the light of day. Mayor Jerry Sanders said he wouldn’t support it. In that vacuum, City Attorney Mike Aguirre proposed a mandatory recycling ordinance that was a good start — though too short on details to fully understand.
Now, just last week, Sanders promised to bring forth a recycling ordinance after conferring with all “affected stakeholders.” But his office still hasn’t completed a requested analysis of the costs and benefits of the mandatory recycling effort. His staff has also mysteriously shelved a council-approved plan to build a construction debris recycling center without much explanation why. (Concrete and lumber account for 35 percent of the waste entering Miramar Landfill.)
So, color us skeptical right now of what, if anything, might come from the Mayor’s Office.
Sure, you might say, the city has some pretty serious issues to be dealing with right now. But this should be counted as one of them because of its important environmental and financial repercussions, especially considering that it should’ve been done about a decade and a half ago.
The people need a comprehensive proposal as soon as possible that they can debate and analyze. The city’s only landfill, Miramar, will be full by 2015 under best-case scenarios, and city officials estimate that right now, two-thirds of all the waste entering Miramar could be recycled. If Miramar closes, the region would face the prospect of more costly dumping.
There’s been a few complaints about a mandatory recycling ordinance from the business camps, such as the owners of offices and apartment complexes. Mainly, they say they want to be involved in the process to make sure all owners are accommodated. And they say they’re worried about fines and want any ordinance to be accompanied by an education effort.
An education campaign would surely be a worthwhile endeavor. Their other concerns can be dealt with rather easily and they should be considered, alongside those of every other “stakeholder,” in the mayor’s talks.
But in the end there’s one thing that is tough to deny: The time has come for recycling reform in San Diego.
It’s important for governments to evolve over time. Businesses react quickly or they go out of business. Government entities will not necessarily go out of business, but they can certainly mess up their priorities. As we’ve advocated in the past, the city also needs to reevaluate the policy of free trash for single-family homes in light of the changing economics and environmental concerns.
The simple point: San Diegans who want to recycle in their apartments, offices and condos should be able to easily. And it’s up to city officials to get this process moving with a long-overdue proposal and analysis encouraging a new model for recycling.