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L.A. opens bidding for firms to serve new trash collection zones

L.A.'s 63,000 large apartment and commercial buildings create about 70% of the city's landfill waste

The city of Los Angeles began implementing an overhaul of its trash collection system Wednesday, aimed at reducing landfill waste and pollution. 

In April, the City Council approved sweeping changes to the trash pickup system for the city's large apartment and commercial buildings — a total of 63,000 properties that are responsible for about 70% of the city's landfill waste.

Instead of the current system, in which landlords each choose a company to pick up their trash, the new plan approved earlier this year divides the city into 11 regions and makes contractors bid to gain exclusive rights. 

On Wednesday, the city's Board of Public Works authorized the Bureau of Sanitation to begin soliciting proposals from companies for those contracts. The city expects to put the new system into effect by early 2017.

"It represents a very significant milestone in what has been a long and arduous process," said Enrique Zalvidar, the city's director of sanitation. He said the changes bring Los Angeles closer to becoming a "sustainable city of the 21st century." 

Now, trash haulers will have to provide recycling bins and continue existing organic waste pickup. Supporters of the plan say that these standards will put Los Angeles on its way to meeting its goal of diverting 90% of trash from its landfills.

The new system is also supposed to increase efficiency by having one trash hauler per zone. This month, companies will begin submitting proposals to compete for a 10-year contract for a zone.

Though companies can apply for multiple zones, no one company can get a contract to serve more than 49% of the city's customers. The city estimates that the 10-year contracts will be worth about $2.5 billion. 

Before the plan was approved, business groups had raised concerns that small businesses wouldn't be able to survive under the new system. 

To address those fears, three of the 11 zones — downtown, dast downtown and southeast Los Angeles — have been designated as small zones, so smaller collection companies can compete for contracts. 

In their proposals, companies must also pledge to meet several environmental standards, like using "clean fuel" vehicles and finding the routes with the least mileage.

Stephanie Molen, with the lung health organization Breathe L.A., said at Wednesday's public works meeting that the plan will improve the city's air quality, especially in low-income communities, and "truly raise the bar for L.A.'s environmental health." 

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