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San Diego is now at least seven years away from untangling the maze of private trash trucks that crisscross the city.
The City Council voted unanimously Monday to extend the rights of 11 different trash companies to operate in the city through 2023. There’s not much rhyme or reason to which trash trucks pick up trash where, which means various companies’ trash trucks re-trace one another’s steps, and several different companies might pick up trash from the same alleyway.
And haulers don’t just send one trash truck, they send one for trash and one for recycling. Plus, they may pick up from the same dumpsters more than once a week. This is why apartment-dwellers may be mystified by early morning beeps and grinds and wonder if every day is trash day.
San Diego is the largest city on the West Coast that still operates its trash services this way. The Council’s action locks in a place a system that the city auditor recommended should be changed.
Auditors said in 2014 that the city should be divided into zones, with one company allowed to operate in each zone. That would save customers money, auditors said, because it’s more efficient and because it would reduce wear and tear on city streets from big trucks.
The city did, however, get something in exchange for extending the contracts: The private haulers have to increase the amount of discarded material that is recycled rather than dumped in a landfill. The new mandate, which requires half of the refuse they collect to be recycled by 2020, helps the city comply with its Zero Waste Plan and its Climate Action Plan, which both encourage recycling.
“We know the haulers, if we just say we’re going to put all these additional requirements on you and no additional time, we know they’re definitely not supportive of that,” said Ken Prue, manager of the city’s recycling program.
Officials are also preparing to further study the auditor’s recommendations to change trash systems.
The city’s Environmental Services Department wants to be able to make final recommendations on a new system in summer 2017.
Private haulers don’t want the current system to change.
“We feel like we’ve got a great system that works,” Elmer Heap, the public-sector manager at Waste Management, told the City Council Monday.
A dozen different trash services operate in San Diego. The city removes trash put out on the street without a special fee. That generally means most single-family homes don’t have extra fees for trash and most apartment and condo complexes do.
Then there are the 11 private companies that serve apartment complexes, businesses and construction sites. The private market is dominated by three major players: Waste Management and Republic Services (also known as Allied), two national companies, and EDCO, which is locally owned.