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Trash haulers will compete for exclusive rights to L.A.'s garbage

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti signed into law Tuesday an overhaul of the city's trash collection program for businesses and large apartment buildings. Advocates say it will keep some garbage out of landfills by increasing recycling, create jobs and reduce truck traffic.

Just before signing the Zero Waste L.A. ordinance, Garcetti called the plan "groundbreaking" and said it fit with his back-to-basics agenda.

"There's nothing more basic in the city than trash collection," he said.

Garcetti said that 70% of the city waste sent to landfills comes from commercial and large apartment buildings. The recycling rate for those properties is 19%, compared to 75% for residential properties, he said.

The changes will not affect roughly 750,000 single-family homes or apartment buildings with four units or fewer, which get their trash and recyclables hauled by city workers.

Up to now, landlords for businesses and apartments have chosen from scores of competing businesses to haul their trash. That disorganized system caused traffic, sometimes with multiple trucks on the same block, Garcetti said. 

"Out there on the streets, it was the wild, wild West," Garcetti said. The haulers in the city serve a $250-million market with approximately 63,000 properties, according to the Bureau of Sanitation.

The sweeping changes, which the City Council approved earlier this month, are intended to spawn more ecologically friendly practices. 

It divides Los Angeles into 11 zones, with haulers bidding for city contracts offering the exclusive right to collect garbage in each area. To be eligible to win, haulers would have to provide bins for recycling and use "clean fuel" vehicles, as well as meet other environmental requirements.

"This is one major step in the right direction," said Jackie Cornejo, project director for the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy. 

Cornejo said her organization, which was a driving force behind approval of the law, estimates that it will create 20,000 jobs in the next 10 years. 

Business groups had opposed the measure, saying that the same environmental goals could have been met by setting green standards and restricting operations to haulers that meet them. Advocates countered that without exclusive contracts, the system would remain inefficient.

Enrique Zalvidar, the city's director of sanitation, said that the city will begin soliciting proposals from haulers in late June. The program is expected to fully launch in January 2017. 

Adrian Martinez, a staff attorney for the environmental group Earthjustice, said that the law creates "the strongest waste program in the United States." 

"I think it's a huge win," he said. 

Once the city sets standards for application eligibility, "the onus is on the waste haulers" to come up with the most environmentally friendly proposals.

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soumya.karlamangla@latimes.com

Twitter: @skarlamangla

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