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Monday, Dec. 8, 2008 | A word of warning to the operators and owners of San Diego’s largest hotels, apartment complexes and office buildings: You’re supposed to be recycling now. If you’re not, we’re going to out you.

The city knows there are at least 11 of you. It’s warned you: Recycle or else.

We’re appointing ourselves the “or else.”

Otherwise, you’d just face a potential fine of $100 (and up to $1,000) and not the public shaming we’re promising.

The city is giving you a chance to right your wrongs before it tells us (and we tell our readers) who you are. Not that the city wants to out you, but the information will be public once its investigations conclude and any violations are issued. The city has found you because it’s gradually implementing the mandatory recycling law the City Council approved in November 2007 and that went into effect earlier this year.

So far, the city has checked 145 big apartment complexes to see whether you’re recycling like you should be. At least eight of you aren’t. And there may be more: The city hasn’t yet checked all 174 apartment complexes with 100 units or more.

Alan Pentico, a spokesman for the San Diego County Apartment Association, says your fellow apartment managers have had no complaints or trouble making space for blue bins. “Most people have been able to find some sort of solution, which was the goal we had going into it,” he says.

The few outliers aren’t just your apartment complexes. Hotel operators? Get to it. At least three of you will soon be receiving a site visit from a city code enforcement officer. If you don’t have recycling — you’ve been told, after all — we’ll publish your names, too.

Your colleagues at other city hotels may be next. The city has checked for recycling at 92 hotels and motels; more than a quarter don’t have bins yet for guests. The city is still in the process of helping the rest of those laggards get a plan in place.

On the plus side, you don’t seem to mind the ordinance that you’ve been ignoring. Stephen Grealy, the city’s waste reduction program manager, says he hasn’t had any complaints since the law went into effect in February. “I’ve been very happy,” he says. “Everyone recognizes it’s time. This is the way waste is handled in the 21st century, and it isn’t a point of discussion.”

Except for you folks who aren’t doing it yet.

Next up for the city’s recycling checks? Commercial buildings bigger than 20,000 square feet. There are 2,800 of them out there; the city’s going to check up on the 262 largest. (Grealy said the city does not have enough staff to check on everyone; seven positions expected to be created because of the city’s expanded recycling efforts are staying vacant because of budget constraints.)

Initial information about those 262 large building owners — reported in August by the waste haulers who service the buildings — suggests that two-thirds have recycling. That’s 90 buildings without it. Grealy figures that some of you are recycling and the city just doesn’t know it yet. It’s double-checking.

If you need advice on how to implement a program at your office, the city will help you (call 858.694.7000 or visit the city’s website). Craig Benedetto, a spokesman for the Building Owners and Managers Association, says his organization will also counsel any of its 300 members who ask for advice about starting recycling programs.

“I don’t think anybody intends to be a bad player here,” he says. “If there are people who are not cognizant of the rules, we want to help them get their programs up and running.”

For the majority who are following the law, nice work. You’re helping to lengthen the city-owned Miramar Landfill’s life. The city has projected it will reach capacity as early as 2012. The recycling law should keep 100,000 tons of waste out of the landfill annually.

City residents who live in houses and not apartment complexes are getting a break from enforcement because Grealy says the city doesn’t have enough staff to check. (Grealy says the city’s limited staff efforts are better focused on ensuring large waste producers are recycling.)

Still, if you live in a house, remember: You’re required to use your blue bin, and you have been since February.

And starting in January, the city’s mandatory recycling laws will expand again. If you manage an apartment complex with 50-99 units or run a business that occupies 10,000 to 19,999 square feet, you’re next. And you’ve been warned.

Please contact Rob Davis directly at rob.davis@voiceofsandiego.org with your thoughts, ideas, personal stories or tips. Or set the tone of the debate with a letter to the editor.

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